Stillwater News Press

May 16, 2011

The Rap Sheet: Explosions in the Sky

By Ricky O'Bannon
Stilly Magazine

STILLWATER, Okla. — Explosions in the Sky - ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care’

If you have never dabbled in “post-rock,” Explosions in the Sky is a great place to start.

The term post-rock is a pretentious, hard-to-define catch-all for instrumental music made using traditional rock instruments. If post-rock was a tree house, a handwritten “no lead singers allowed” would hang in front, but even that rule isn’t set in stone. It’s even more remarkable then that Explosions is capable of evoking such a wide breadth of emotions in its listeners without a single vocal cue.

The blueprint for the group is as simple as it is satisfying. Their music is never melody-driven. Instead it relies wholly on structure and the slow build. Most tracks begin by repeating a lonely, melancholy riff. The band slowly layers new melodic ideas into the fold, and the listener shifts their focus to greet the new idea.

The result is what the band calls “cathartic mini-symphonies,” and catharsis is the right word. Inevitably, the music gathers momentum and builds to a climax of sheer joy that resolves the early moments of angst and conflict on a high note. Explosions doesn’t paint concise portraits with its music; the group paints epic landscapes filled with emotional peaks and valleys.

Everything about Explosions’ music is big. Most tracks stretch on for more than seven minutes, and the volume — which ranges from barely audible to overwhelming — forces the listener to fiddle with their iPod just to avoid hearing damage. But the group somehow succeeds in being loud but never noisy.

What this group requires from its listeners is patience. In the same way that standing too close to a painting results in only seeing color blotches, the full scale and shape of this music doesn’t present itself until many songs hit their climax often eight-minutes in.

Explosions is best known for their work composing the soundtrack to the “Friday Night Lights” movie and TV show. The band is based out of Austin, but three members of the quartet hail from Midland, Texas, making their music a fitting pairing for the show’s West Texas landscapes framed through a hand-held camera.

The band’s latest album, “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” in some ways is a departure from their well-known Friday Night Lights score and previous studio albums. Take Care uses some vocal samples, guitar feedback and a handful of new instruments that bring new colors to the band’s music.

Other than that, the structure and dependence on the slow build will be very familiar to fans of the group.

One of the only clues to what the music is about is a note the band wrote on their website saying the album covers a range of topics that the members have experienced in the past four years since their last album including “marriages, babies, friends lost, friends found, illnesses in families, ping pong tournaments, up ands downs, the joy and sadness of everyday life.”

Take Care is the sixth album by Explosions and something many acquainted with the band will enjoy. If you’re new to the band and the style, it might make more sense to start with an accessible album from the middle of the group’s catalogue such as “Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place.”  

For bands like Explosions who have succeeded in creating something original, die-hard fans will welcome the continuation of a tried-and-true style while critics clamor for the group to reinvent itself. Take Care does not stray far from the music that built Explosions’ reputation. Whether that draws the ire from some critics is beside the point. The truth is that the band’s career mirrors its music by creating something that is deeply satisfying through subtle and masterful variation.