Continuous Portrait is the sonic version of recessive genes. This is not the type of album one might expect from an ambient artist (Matthew Cooper) and part of a post-rock band (Explosions in the Sky’s Mark T. Smith). But it makes sense, since the duo is called Inventions.
The album starts with laughter that leads to synth, a reflection of the title “Hints and Omens.” The listener relaxes, already assuaged. The squeaky toy sound is one of two here reminiscent of Jilk (in this instance, “Periscopes,” recorded with Haiku Salut). When the horns arrive, one may think of EitS, but it’s more likely one will think of sunrise, or summer, or parades. The music breaks down, opening up space for piano and a soft female voice. Nothing will hurt you here.
And then there are the three singles. First is the bouncy “Calico,” which rolls around like a ball of wool with a cat stuck to it. The introduction of choir is followed by the sound of a reversing truck, leading to the mourning doves and busy hanging door bells of the title track. The repeated words “You’re okay” produce the second thought of Jilk, echoing the message of “Let’s Still Be Weird Right” ~ “everything is going to be okay.” Inventions extends the theme in “Outlook for the Future” with another spoken word sample, this one from an elderly woman proclaiming, “I don’t worry about the future!” The start of the track fades in, the end of the track fades out; we can imagine it playing still.
If the opener is the “almost EitS track,” “Close to People” is the “almost Eluvium track,” thanks to its orchestral loop. The album was already prescient, but hearing the words “I want to touch her hand and kiss her cheek … I like to (be) close to people,” one is amazed. Continuous Portrait is yet another example of an album accidentally right for our times. The warm beats, field recordings and creative instrumentation would have made an impression no matter what the news, but they are particularly welcome now. The scratchy vinyl sample of “The Warmer the Welcome” offers the past as comfort: they got through it, we’ll get through it too. The album’s last words: “It’s alright, Johnny, it’s okay.”
It’s unclear whether Cooper and Smith have always enjoyed tempo-driven electronic music or if this modern timbre is a product of their interaction. Either way, the implication is heartening: joy hides in unexpected places and/or friendship can produce beauty. Interpretations aside, we’re enjoying this new invention. (Richard Allen)