It’s only been a year since Inventions, comprised of Eluvium‘s Matthew Cooper and Explosions In The Sky‘s Mark Smith, first emerged. Following on from a well-received eponymous debut, they return with Maze Of Woods, another collection of instrumentals that lean heavily towards ambience. The record as a whole is mostly influenced by the closing paragraph of Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams, describing the wordless howl of feral wolf boy. It seems like a strange and surprising place to take inspiration, though it’s impressive that they’ve managed to conjure up so much creativity from what is essentially a snippet of a story.
What is less surprising is the overall sound of Maze Of Woods. It’s a similar template from their self-titled remains, albeit with more focus on atmosphere. It certainly feels like a mellower, more wistful album than its predecessor, even if it isn’t quite compelling for the full duration of its running time. These are two clearly talented musicians and, at their best, they feed off each other immensely well.
There are a couple of sonic features that makes Maze Of Woods an intriguing listen, at the very least. Firstly, the collision course of acoustic and electronic elements is a prominent theme. Moanmusic features sombre piano fighting for attention against crackling synths. Sometimes the balance is expertly judged (Slow Breathing Circuit contains many yelps and whistles in the background but it’s a gentle acoustic guitar that rightfully shines in the spotlight) but there are moments when it’s too jarring (Moanmusic’s battle to combine crackling synths and sombre piano doesn’t quite work as it should).
Secondly, Cooper and Smith decided to place a lot more emphasis on vocal parts this time around, incorporating them as if they were samples, and the results are magnificently eerie. What’s particularly striking is the brilliantly subtle use of these components. A little bit of obscure harmonising on Peregrine adds so much to what was already a wonderfully serene piece of music, whilst Springworlds is given an extra weight of otherworldliness by a mysterious and theatrical refrain. However, they go one better with album closer Feeling The Sun Thru The Earth At Night; a ghostly choir enters in and out of consciousness to provide a finish that is curiously calming.
There are points where Inventions get to a state of repetition – A Wind From All Directions and Moanmusic don’t really add anything that hasn’t already been conveyed elsewhere – and digesting all eight tracks in one go is not quite as satisfying as it might be. Yet, often interesting and occasionally moving, and at a compact 40 minutes, Maze Of Woods certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome and steers well clear of self-indulgence.