Before becoming a musician, Belfast-born, London based Max Cooper obtained a degree in computational biology and worked as a genetic researcher at University College London. His approach to his current craft seems to carry echoes of this cerebral background; Cooper’s work has a compositional rigour that is highly scientific, with painstakingly constructed building blocks of sound, but also an unmistakeably organic heart pulsing at the centre.
Although scarcely a newcomer – Cooper has released a string of EPs dating back to 2007 – next week sees the release of a debut album, Human, which should firmly establish him as one of the most interesting and innovative electronica musicians in the UK today.
While his earlier releases were by and large intelligent but undeniably club-friendly slabs of techno, Human represents a major step forward in ambition, with the LP format allowing Cooper to unleash his full range of influences, which include classical composers such as Philip Glass as well as the likes of Sigur Rós and their Icelandic contemporary Ólafur Arnalds.
From the blissfully shimmering, oriental-sounding cascade of notes of gentle opener Woven Ancestry to the mesmerising, almost transcendental ambience of final track Awakening, this is a record that targets the head rather than the feet, with vast open spaces to explore, full of lush, warm piano, intricate beats and a swathe of subtly insidious melodies. That said, there are still occasional nods to the more rhythmic, urban textures of his past – for example the soulful dubstep of Adrift and the industrial, urgent skitter of Impacts.
Human is apparently intended to be Cooper’s dreamlike exploration of the dualities within a life – nature versus nurture, emotional versus rational, and the internal person versus the larger society. Admittedly, not everyone listening will necessarily engage with such a lofty concept, but the contemplative, thought-provoking atmospherics Cooper creates bear comparison to the best work of other leading exponents of what can lazily be described as ‘intelligent dance music’. If Gold Panda, Fuck Buttons and the more serene output of Aphex Twin feature heavily on your playlist, then Max Cooper is certainly an artist worth investigating this year.