Maze of Woods

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When ambient pop duo Inventions came together for the release of their self-titled 2014 debut, its strengths were no surprise based on the pedigree of the bandmembers. Mark T. Smith had spent all of his sonic energy up until that point playing in sprawling instrumental rock act Explosions in the Sky and Matthew Cooper had produced gorgeous ambient music under the name Eluvium for over a decade when the two friends formed new project Inventions. The washed-out textures and loose electronic beats of their debut were by no means standard sounds for either player, yet somehow they made sense as the strange fruits of a wild new combination. Less than a year after that album, the pair returned with sophomore album Maze of Woods, an enthusiastic and farther-reaching second chapter to their quickly developing sound. The album begins with "Escapers" setting the tone with a vocal sample of a voice proclaiming "I wanted to do something that I don't know how to do." In an album heavy on manipulated vocal sounds and heavily processed choir samples, these are the most intelligible words, and not accidentally. You can feel how this sentence speaks to an intensity of purpose for Inventions, two established artists trying on very different styles. The stumbling beats and dub blips of the song are augmented by soft guitar leads and stabs of synth, but even the more familiar sounds here feel especially distant and alien. The duo integrates samples derived from human voices on most tracks, giving an ambient bedding that can be either calming and heavenly, as with the Aphex Twin-like jump of "Wolfkids," or haunting on more abstract pieces like "A Wind from All Directions." While some of the same beautiful electronic rumblings that Cooper brings to Eluvium pop up on the record's more melancholic moments like "Moanmusic," the sounds he and Smith craft together gel in a way far more urgent and quickly unfolding than most Eluvium material, taking Maze of Woods into a place that seems less quietly observant and more driven to explore, attempt, and understand.

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