Stream one of the most beautiful albums of the year, and read the band's track-by-track guide.
Inventions is the new band formed by longtime friends, tourmates, and labelmates Matthew Cooper of Eluvium, and Mark T. Smith of Explosions In The Sky. It began in earnest in 2013 when Cooper invited Smith to collaborate on a song for Eluvium’s otherworldly double-album, Nightmare Ending. The track, “Envenom Mettle”, was a standout on an album full of them, and just like that a longstanding friendship blossomed into a full-fledged creative partnership. There are plenty of talking points here: The fact that Cooper hasn’t been in a “band” of any sort since he was a teenager; no member of Explosions In The Sky has released an album outside of the context of EITS since their inception in the late 90s; and, of course, this is a dream duo for anyone familiar with the unparalleled emotional resonance of Cooper and Smith’s respective day jobs. However, thirty seconds into their eponymous debut album, you realize that the esteemed pedigree is irrelevant. Inventions exceeds all expectations by discarding them from the get-go. They have created their own tiny, wondrous corner of the world, one with ever-changing sounds and colors
TRACK BY TRACK GUIDE
Matthew Cooper: This might be a strange way to start off a track by track breakdown, but I don't really remember a whole lot about how this one came about. I'm pretty certain Mark sent me the opening guitar stuff first, and I remember loving it and wanting to make something with it. I think the guitar sound reminded me of something Wendy Carlos would write (if playing guitar) and it just had this lifting feeling, which is maybe why it ended up as the first track. It is like a pre-lift off systems test sort of feeling. I think I chopped up some of his guitars and added some organ tones and drums and sent it back, and he returned it with these crazy burst sounds and little mumbles mixed towards the end. I love those bursts and mumbles. Good work, Mark.
Mark T. Smith : Not exactly knowing how the song started or developed--that seems to happen a lot with us. Not only is its origin cloudy but it's also kind of surprising how the song even stays together. It's just kind of like some diaphanous tones and voices and phased-out synths strung together by virtue of a few guitar lines and a drum beat. Sorry, you're just kind of hearing us shake our heads and rub our eyes and talk this one out. And yet it does ultimately feel right to us.... It reminds me of a strange day, with the trumpet-like morning announcement of the opening guitars to the way the sunlight leaves with the closing organs accompanied by a little shaker (that reminds us of insects). A fun fact: Matthew came up with the song title after taking the letters of our two last names and putting them into an anagram maker. The fact that the title has a pretty amazing meaning ("tropism" is the act of turning toward a stimulus, like a sunflower turns to face the sun) was deeply cool to us.
MC: Flood Poems… what happened here? What is this song about? I feel like it is some sort of incantation or summoning of spirits beginning in the late night/early-morning light before an expected confrontation. That probably sounds a little silly, but we discussed the idea of suggesting a certain unbreakable strength, or spirit, for this song. . . not allowing it to burst out but to hold steady and deepen and embolden.
MS: What happened here... what happened here... This song went through a dismantling and reconstruction, like a flood went through a church and rearranged it. I sent a piece that had three guitar lines threaded together--so originally my guitar melody from the first half of the song was overlaying my guitar melody from the second half of the song, along with a more strummy pattern all at the same time. Matthew split the melodies up and put them in different places and reversed and detuned the strums, and then added the soulful hums and a bunch of other stuff. We always label the elements in the songs, and this song has elements named "ice cubes" (originally "muted jackhammer") and "fat guy." I do feel like this song is reminiscent of the current of a high river that has all this debris floating down and swirling about and you can jump on with your raft for a while and follow along and sing if you want.
MC: I know Entity started with the main synth line and the weird computer-y sounds mixed in--it was pretty straightforward, though maybe some strange sounds built within it. Mark sent it back with these gorgeous vocals and I was immediately sold on it. I'm not sure I even know or remember what the original sample is from, though I know he let me guess for a long time and I guessed everyone you would think it sounds like and was wrong every time. I enjoy that air of mystery though.
MS: This song is best listened to at an empty beach.
MS: This song is probably the simplest and most straightforward bit of collaboration on the record. It's built around a guitar track that has pitch-shifted echoes bouncing off it, which is loosely synced up with a sampled section of acoustic guitar and wandering vocals taken from Panda Bear's "Young Prayer." Then it sweeps upward into synth and choral and piano melodies mixed in with feedback and some percussion rolls. Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) was kind enough to let us use the sample and that reminds me we need to send him a copy of the album. Our friend Paul gave us the song title and I can't think of a more fitting way to describe the images I see when listening to this song.
MC: Yes. Thanks to Noah for being so awesome and lending us the sample. Thanks to Paul for the wonderfully appropriate song title.
MS: This song is kind of the origin story of Inventions. After Matthew asked me to play on his track "Envenom Mettle" off his last album "Nightmare Ending," it became a spark that made us want to make more. It's still sort of strange and modern in that I can trace our entire band history through our emails because we write all the music by sharing emails. On April 11th of last year I sent Matthew an mp3 that was 2:02 in length, and it had the main sampled loop, and a piano melody, and the big distortion swells. We just wanted to test the waters and see what would happen. Matthew put some synth melodies on it that immediately sounded embracing, but where the song and ultimately the band came alive was when he put a big kick-snare beat on this track. We knew we didn't want to make a really expected ambient floating record, but that is when we began to really grow. We kept everything pretty subtle, I think, but of all the songs on the album this song has the most amount of tracks in it--everything from a man and woman counting "2-3-4-5" in German to start off the song, to a very effected sample of my daughter singing "Don't forget Australia" near the end of the song. This song grew so naturally that I can forget how the elements all came together and just enjoy it as the first song that we made as Inventions.
MC: I remember working that sample all sorts of ways, it was originally very free roaming, rhythm-wise, and it was quite a bit of time to get the drum pattern working with it, but once I allowed them to rhythmically play off each other and fall in and out, as it leads to the kick in, it all came together. I think I added some bagpipes and some sort of detuned whale-sounding guitar onto the second half. It is interesting that Mark's daughter is saying "Don't forget Australia." I think it was reversed in a few places, or maybe it wasn't… I don't really remember… but to me it sounds like she is calling out "Can you talk to me." The ending part, I think, is actually the opening organ lines reversed. Oh, there are some field recordings of skateboarders mixed throughout the song too.
MS: The skateboarding samples led to the title--it put us in mind of a peaced out good kid, skateboarding away from the fights or calming down confrontations.
Sun Locations / Sun Coda
MC : This song's origination comes from me sending Mark a ten-plus minute drone and drum beat sort of thing. He took the entire piece and warped it to be incredibly short. I remember being totally weirded out by the choice, but also extremely entranced. It became the corner stone for the whole first half of the song which we then layered open tuned guitars and horn blasts and screams and all sorts of madness atop of. It was invigorating, but really hard to keep control of. When we were doing some of the mixing for it, I remember needing to fix some things in the "sun coda" part and I kept asking Mark if he could send me some of the parts for it again. He told me that I was asking for parts that I had actually created, which I don't think I believed, but it was true. This is all part of the fun, quite honestly. I get so into making strange things with him and sending them back and forth and having it develop into something beyond either of us, I sometimes lose track of who did what… and whether it even matters.
MS: I like how our band name seems to match what we do. We take these sonic elements and assemble and disassemble and combine and mutate and warp and connect and try to make them into tools or inventions that fit needs, for things we know we need (comfort, soothing, wonder), and things we don't even know we need (the emotions and thoughts that aren't so easily categorizable or explainable). This song seems to fit the latter category. It doesn't really comfort or soothe or do anything I can put my finger on, but it's almost certainly my favorite song on the record.
MC: I remember once describing this song as "the comforts of screaming into a pillow" when we were walking on the beach last year.
MS: It's weird to admit to listening to your own music, but I don't really know why. But I will admit when I've had a few down days I find this song to have a restorative quality. The words were originally small snippets sampled from a movie, but we felt it would be more personal and human to have a friend say them, and we asked my bandmate Michael James. The words have a circular meditation mantra quality to them--like your inner voice is speaking to persistent doubts and thoughts: "Stop," "End."
MC: Yes. This song is just total embrace to me. I picture people randomly running to hug strangers on the street, like they are possessed with goodness. Thank you, Michael James, for your help on this one.
MS: My favorite part of this song is probably really hard to catch, unless you are listening on good headphones and are listening specifically for it: At the very end of the song, coinciding with the last drum hit is a sampled sentence that says "I will not be afraid." Coming out of that big end drum and feedback section, it just felt empowering or encouraging to end on that. The working title of this song was "Whispers Island Secrets"--there's something vaguely Caribbean about it, swaying skirts, volcanoes, street musicians. It also feels like our most pop song.
MC: One of my favorite moments on the record is during the first half of this song. Each time Mark and I play guitar and piano together, it is this little moment on the record where we are entirely without effects, gently flowing together in harmony. It is curiously unique to the rest of the album. I also really love the sample choice as the last moment of the record. The song starts with 3 beeps and a gasp for air right at the beginning. It feels like someone waking up from a coma to me, and then slowly processing the world around them. It starts gently and curiously, but then starts to melt into a strangeness, until it almost becomes to much to bear, ending with a powerful resolution to not live in fear.
Inventions by Inventions is out now. Pick up your copy from the Temporary Residence online shop.