Having spent the last few years wandering around in the wilderness writing soundtracks for Prince Avalanche, Lone Survivor and Manglehorn, Explosions In The Sky have come in from the cold. Whilst they appear much the same on the surface, there have been a few changes to the band whose last studio album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care came out in 2011. When the door that graced the cover of that album slammed shut, it seemed possible, in the light of their soundtrack work that they’d never head back to that cabin in the woods again.
So, here we are, five years later, and Explosions In The Sky are a much leaner, more subtle and more effective band. Long expansive compositions have, for the most part, been dispatched for shorter and more direct songs. That’s not to say that the band have stepped away from the “quiet-loud-quiet-LOUD” template entirely, and to be fair to them, they were beyond that with Take Care, but they’re now operating on a much more subtle and effective sonic palette.
In addition to this, their time spent creating soundtracks has clearly enabled them to establish mood and depth quickly without compromising the emotion that sits at the heart of their music. They’ve retained this emotional resonance by remembering that it’s not just explosive crescendos that matter, but the small stuff too. The title track opens the album and is a perfect example of the band keeping things delicate to maximise impact. Its shimmering ambience, barely there instrumentation and glacial feel serve as an understated but nonetheless intriguing introduction.
Interestingly, where there was once distorted guitar, there are now overlays of treated drums and heavily resonating bass tones , Explosions In The Sky might be in a different head space these days, but they still know how to move. The Ecstatics follows and it builds quickly from sparse, scattershot drum patterns and chilly guitar echoes into a warming and elegant heartfelt sweep. That it moves so quickly between moods (the whole shift takes about three minutes) highlights the band’s no nonsense approach this time around. There might be something in the argument that suggests an 11 minute anticipation makes the payoff more enjoyable, but honestly, three minutes of beauty is every bit as wonderful as endless passages of exposition on the way to the deployment of a distortion pedal. Logic Of A Dream is more foreboding in tone, but is essentially the classic post-rock template condensed into a scant few minutes. A solitary bass line feeds into seething keyboards and rumbling drums, a squall of strings later and it’s straight into rumbling chaos. The song begins to pressurise like a kettle, practically boiling over, before it turns inward and settles down into an almost jaunty ending.
Pulling the band in a slightly different direction is Disintegration Anxiety, which rattles along with a math inspired directness. It’s perhaps the only time on the album that Explosions In The Sky sound a little off the pace. It’s not that it’s not all perfectly executed, but it sounds like the kind of thing that Foals left behind years ago. Fortunately, they do occasionally drop the staccato guitars out, and at that point they sound expansive and joyous. The final part of the album finds the band floating in the cosmos. At times this sounds like an exhilarating and thrilling experience. The blink and you’ll miss it tumult of Infinite Orbit, with its tight drum patterns and sudden gear shift into elation sounds more like hitting the boosters than settling for orbit. The thrust at the centre point is perhaps one of the most thrilling moments on the album. Losing The Light and Colours In Space are far more restrained and ethereal.
Losing The Light is darker in tone, and almost impressionistic in delivery whilst Colours In Space starts life in a similar vein before changing tack, introducing a skittering drum track and giddily exploring the heavens. Final track Landing Cliffs finds the band bobbing about on the surface of the ocean having attempted a tricky re-entry. There’s no comedown here though, just a sense of wonderful serenity. The wilderness and going off the map might seem like a frightening concept, but after a little exploration, there’s beauty to be found everywhere.