Last year brought the first album from Inventions, the duo of Explosions In The Sky guitarist Mark Smith and Eluvium's Matthew Cooper. Some collaborations can spring from left field, be it Lady Gaga with Tony Bennett or Kanye West with Paul McCartney. But Cooper and Smith seemed almost inevitable: Tourmates and labelmates, they make music — in a post-rock band and as a solo laptop musician, respectively — that tends toward the slow-panning and wide-screened, with evocative results.
At times, Inventions' debut sounded like a mutual appreciation society, with both participants playing to each other's strengths and staying in their parallel comfort zones. "Escapers" opens Maze Of Woods with a ghostly, echoing voice: "I wanted to do something that I don't know how to do." It's a sentiment that Smith and Cooper seem to take to heart on Inventions' follow-up, as they push their sound into unknown realms. Utilizing dub beeps, slowed handclaps, found vocals and Smith's elegant guitar lines, they tether it all to a drum-machine beat that brings to mind Boards Of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children, at once head-nodding and vaguely unsettling.
Most noticeable on Inventions' second album is a more pronounced rhythmic presence, but just as often, the duo undercuts such big beats. There's a beat like wooden barrels bobbing on a lake in "A Wind From All Directions," but the piano lines and disembodied vocal sample give it a more sober feel as the sounds melt into "Wolfkids." But just as that song's thump congeals and becomes more pronounced, Smith and Cooper offset it with what sounds like an orchestra swirling down a bathtub drain.
While their respective projects (and their debut) built to big, stirring climaxes, the most startling moments on Maze Of Woods can be found when the music is at its most hushed and still. It's there when the flares of guitar feedback and electronic drones recede to reveal a church choir midway through "Feeling The Sun Thru The Earth At Night." Perhaps the album's most gorgeous moment arrives during "Peregrine," when shortwave-radio interference intermingles with a plaintive piano line and suddenly, a little girl's haunting voice can be made out amid the static.