Published Mar 13, 2015Matthew Cooper of Eluvium and Mark T. Smith of Explosions in the Sky team up once again for their sophomore release as Inventions. On Maze of Woods, inspired by Denis Johnson's novella Train Dreams, the duo cram in every soundscape possible: from found sounds to obscure samples, warbled chanting to the clanging of bells.
Those familiar with the duo's self-titled debut album will find themselves in very similar territory, albeit with a tad less drone and with somewhat more experimental results. While this experimentation can be welcome — as on the delicate and sparse "Slow Breathing Circuit" — it can sometimes become grating, such as on the sonically confused "Wolfkids." Their newfound love of vocal sampling feels at odds with the sound Cooper and Smith have cultivated thus far, and is quite possibly the root of the album's problems. While it would be conceivable to enjoy certain tracks based solely on their sonic qualities, the vocals have a tendency of yanking you out of your reverie, as they do on "A Wind From All Directions."
It's also difficult to discern exactly how Train Dreams figures into Maze of Woods. Cooper and Smith assert that they used the final paragraph of the novel as the basis of their inspiration, a depiction of "the nonverbal howl of a feral wolf boy, a pre-language that is yearning and instinctual; a statement of wordless distress and love," but that doesn't resonate with the material on display here. Why the sudden interest in vocal samples when a "nonverbal howl" and "a statement of wordless distress" are the basis of the album's inspiration?
There's very little on offer to ground the listener here, which makes Maze of Woods a challenging collection; it's the aural equivalent of a 90-minute movie that feels like a 3-hour watch. (Temporary Residence)