From scoring videos for architect Zaha Hadid to staging 4D sound shows in Amsterdam, Max Cooper has proved to be someone who follows his own instincts and interests when it comes to choosing which artistic projects to pursue. More than five years after putting out his first release, Max Cooper has been thrilling clubbers with his dreamy brand of electronica over a series of singles and EPs.
As such, you’d expect a full-length LP to continue in the same vein. If he had produced more of the same with the occasional new trick thrown in just to spice things up every now and again, it wouldn’t have received many complaints.
For his debut album, he has decided to take a left-turn. Whereas his previous singles have followed a well-refined framework – techno with entrancing rhythms and lush textures – Human shows a major leap forward in ambition, with only a few of the trademarks of his most well-known tracks, such as Harmonisch Serie and Symphonica, being applied. Unlike his previous work, there is a greater emphasis on contemplation and the energy levels are more subdued. It’s clear from the off that he isn’t pandering to anyone in particular, nor is he willing to dumb down to get more attention.
On first listen, it’s disorientating at times. However, Human eventually develops a pace that, through all the ever-changing dynamics, remains constant throughout. It doesn’t rely on special guests too much for support and nor does it often slip into the over-familiar. That said, the sprawling Potency, which begins intensely hushed and subdued before a towering synthesiser storms in threatening to pierce your eardrums, is so brutal that it wouldn’t be surprising if at that point it severed ties with the fans who remain unconvinced.
Finding a gateway into the LP is tricky. If forced to pick out tracks that would be accessible, Numb acts as a reminder of his past glories and the hard-hitting rhythmic onslaught of Impacts is powerful and attention-grabbing. Repeat spins help to unravel some of the subtleties used and it becomes easier to pick the stand outs; it’s the adventures into the unknown that impress the most. The twisting beats of Empyrean, warm-sounding synths and characterful piano makes for a great piece of chilled electronica, whilst Awakening is an effective, satisfying and downright beautiful closer.
Most importantly, Human has a beating heart that prevents it from coming across as cold or distant. To add soul to this kind of music is extremely challenging, and it’s immensely satisfying to find out that Human does indeed seem to possess one even if it’s a little warped and contorted. The few guest vocalists on Human help to bring an emotional weight that, arguably, isn’t anywhere near as prominent elsewhere in his back catalogue; Kathrin deBoer brings a light and soulful touch to the otherwise glitchy and jittery Adrift, for example.
Ultimately, there’s nothing here that will make someone question that they’re listening to a Max Cooper record, but the variety is something that might take a few attempts to discover – the orchestral stylings of opener Woven Ancestry might be serene, but Supine is solid minimalist techno and the gorgeous piano notes that are sprinkled all over Empyrean add so much in terms of atmosphere.
The ambient nature of Human will definitely appeal more to anyone willing to be open-minded about what they were hoping to get from Max Cooper, but the fascinating sounds that he has conjured up will be of intrigue to everyone who wraps their ears around it. A tribute to Max Cooper’s skills as a producer, Human is a very clever debut that manages to sidestep all expectations in an immensely rewarding manner.