Album Reviews

Explosions In The Sky – End

(Bella Union) UK release date: 15 September 2023

Explosions In The Sky - End Given the album’s ominous title, does End herald the last output from post-rock Texans Explosions In The Sky, or does it hint at deeper meanings?
End is their seventh studio album, and it follows rapidly (for them) on the heels of their 2021 soundtrack for the national park TV documentary Big Bend, a largely acoustic work.

When a band is synonymous with a genre, they subconsciously become the yardstick against which others operating within that genre are measured. So where do Explosions In The Sky rate on the ‘Mogwai’ scale? Since forming in 1999, the American quartet have been inhabiting the same schemata of soundtrack work, prolific live shows and glacial work rate as their Scottish counterparts. But there the similarities end. The band describe End as representing the ‘endings of friendships, relationships and death’, and their responses to this finality, be it anger, joy, release or rebirth and change. Each member brought forward stories or ideas that were developed into their own world.

While undoubtedly filmic in their scope, the nagging feeling lingers that a band who have focused recently on soundtracking visuals lack an anchoring reference point, leading here to somewhat aimless noodlings. Musicians – from U2, Sufjan Stevens and more notably Brian Eno – have tried (and sometimes failed) to create soundtracks for imaginary films which can stand as works by themselves without needing filmic backup. End follows an almost ‘post-rock by numbers’ template in the predictability of the music’s progress, mixing the tried and tested tropes of ‘quiet/loud’ and ‘fast/slow’ oppositions, but there are few sonic surprises to be had. These pieces seem rather rudderless, plodding out to predictable surging crescendoes before withdrawing into more reflective passages.

The tickings that lead into album opener Ten Billion People build slowly until drums arrive up front in the mix and don’t really let up for the duration. Around the martial beats, guitars look towards being optimistic but come across like the ‘inspirational’ music used on crisis moments on The X Factor. Moving On and Loved Ones merge into a miasma of indistinct existence. Peace Or Quiet predictably noodles along all ‘quietly’ for a while before seemingly deciding to ape what sounds like The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again riff before just… stopping, while the ominously titled It’s Never Going To Stop rounds off the album with the most spacious production and a gentler touch, yet without delivering any killer payoff.

Here all the tropes are present and correct and in the right order, but there is a sense of exhaustion of ideas and inspiration wrung out from the twangy guitars, slow chord progressions, celestial keyboards and militaristic drumming patterns, even if there is a larger sonic palette utilised here than on previous outings. Sometimes repetition can create mantric states in which to immerse, or lead to a cliff-edge of release, but here it feels like the musicians have got stuck on a chord progression or riff and simply plodded merrily on. Repetition to try to invoke some depth just drives these riffs into the ground. There is little of progress or variation in the delivery and writing, and the music plods predictably, generating little excitement, which is a shame: their soundtrack alter-ego hinted at the possibility of much more nuanced variations. 

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