I am sure I am not the only person whose interest was piqued when it became known some time ago that electronic impresario Eluvium, aka Mathew Cooper, and the boys from Explosions in the Sky were teaming up to make some music together. While I enjoy both Eluvium’s and Explosion in the Sky’s music, both outfits tend to leave me feeling somewhat unfulfilled. This is primarily just an issue of personal preference, but I suspect that other people share some of my misgivings. Although quite different in terms of their use of instruments and song structure, both Eluvium and Explosions in the Sky tend to project an overly romantic current that runs through their music, a tendency that feels a little bit too sweet and wistful to me. Upon hearing about this particular collaboration, which is being called Inventions, I thought to myself, “Perhaps these guys will channel that bitter-sweetness and sense of unspecified nostalgia in such a way as to highlight their respective strengths; perhaps this coming together of talents will hit me harder than either group does alone.” That initial hope has pretty much been fulfilled. Inventions places Cooper’s lush, electronic ambience alongside Explosions in the Sky’s sense of space and tension. The results are quite satisfying and not too syrupy.
One of the main differences here that consistently reminds the listener that this is not just an Explosions in the Sky record is the relative lack of percussion. Nowhere on Inventions will you find the martial drumming that was so affective as a soundtrack to teenage boys giving each other concussions in West Texas. You get some electronic thumping here and there, like the diseased heart of some acne covered raver hopped up on molly, but nothing like the clearly organic, structure grounding rat-a-tat-tat that one would expect from an Explosions in the Sky track. I am not completely comfortable calling Inventions an ambient album, per se, but it certainly heads in that direction at times. On the excellent track ‘Luminous Insects’ we hear a looped sample of some guy chanting set against a soaring Eno-inspired synth wash. Out of this hypnotic, Eluvium-like soundscape comes a rolling, rather percussive piano part that mostly takes the place of actual drums. ‘Luminous Insects’ sounds something like a fleshed-out maximalist interpretation of something off of Music for Airports, although perhaps without the subtlety and tension of that record.
Boards of Canada are probably the best comparison with what Inventions are doing here. The term “semi-ambient” might be appropriate for describing both outfits. Inventions tracks like ‘Peaceable Child’ marry the warmth and sweetness of Music Has the Right to Children-era Boards of Canada, with the dense, blurry, intensity of their more recent output. With all of these electronic comparisons in mind, one should not get the impression that Explosions in the Sky’s more organic, musical input in missing here. There is just enough guitar work and humanity on Inventions to keep it from spiraling off into space. With an auspicious collaboration like this one, it will have to be left up to the individual listener to decide if either side of the musical equation is too heavily represented, or if they would have been better off coming up with a wholly different sound that does not sound like either group. Inventions ends up sounding like exactly what it is: Eluvium collaborating with Explosions in the Sky. This works pretty well for me and they mostly avoid the overly-dramatic, sentimental quality that sometimes causes me to roll my eyes at Explosions in the Sky.