Post-rock albums, and really, most instrumental albums, are very difficult to write about. There usually isn’t a story, as there are obviously no lyrics, so instead we have to focus on the moods and tones the particular band is trying to set with the music. The best way to get to the root of the matter is to look at one album in comparison with previous albums by that band, if possible. This album, The Wilderness, by Explosions in the Sky, is no different. We can look back to their most recent previous release of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care to see what new directions they decided to take. In many instances, an evaluation like “more of the same” sounds like an insult, but when a band so clearly nails a particular sound, it is praise. Post-rock has always been an interesting genre of music to me, because it is truly interpretive. The listener can, well, listen to the album and they can get an entirely different experience than myself or anyone else. I think immediately to another popular post-rock band, Sigur Ros, who do use vocals, but in a fictional language called “Hopelandic”. I recall at least one of their album/liner notes for their releases just has several blank pages where you can write what you feel. Pretty clever stuff. Explosions in the Sky doesn’t need vocals to tell a story, but the story is one of your own choosing. When and if you listen to this album, close your eyes for at least one whole track and let the music take you somewhere.
The first track released by the band from this album is Disintegration Anxiety. It’s a short four minute song about *fill in the blank*. In this particular track, the band starts with a sound reminiscent of a Battles album, with the distorted synthesizer intro leading into repetitive and consistent guitar riff laying the frame of the track. On top of the guitar is a synthesizer sound that quietly floats along as the track progresses, as the drums start to get louder. The drums, especially for this track, are mixed to sound almost fuzzy to lessen their impact. The snare and bass effects aren’t nearly as pronounced as in traditional songs, but they manage to take over when the guitar fades away. Each instrument drifts in and out of the song, and after the drums lose focus, the synthesizer comes back in. The result is an impressive and yet comforting track that culminates towards the end with a distorted guitar wrapping things up. It doesn’t really build up in the sense like some progressive rock tracks I talk about in earlier reviews, and just drifts (I use that word a lot in this context because that’s what it sounds like) in and out until it just stops. Symbolism? Maybe. That’s up for you to decide.
The next track Explosions released was Logic of a Dream, which is one of their longer tracks on the album clocking in at a little over 6 1/2 minutes. It starts very quiet until the synthesizer really kicks in about 50 seconds in. I immediately thought back to a few M83 tracks from the Oblivion Soundtrack with those notes, until the drums rolled in around 2 minutes. They don’t slowly come in, and instead just decide to be a part of this track now. It was as if the drummer was just sitting there in the studio while the keyboard played, got a little bored, and said “Ok, we’re doing this now.” Unlike some of the other tracks on this album, Logic of a Dream has somewhat of a destination. After the drums kick in, the sound builds and the intensity grows and then plateaus. Once it hits the peak around 3:45, it just lets go. This is post-rock at its finest. It bails on traditional song structures entirely and marches to the beat of its own drum. This track in many ways is the tale of two songs. The first half is borderline metal in the way it’s treated, and then it falls down into a valley of something not unlike soft indie-like pop. I appreciate the diversity, and it shows that even after 16 years of music among seven albums, Explosions in the Sky is still not afraid to wander into unusual territories.
The tracks differ one to the next, but I imagine if the album were reorganized, each track could very easily lead into the next in one massive soundscape. The album is balanced well, and doesn’t keep one level of intensity for too long. The three and change minutes of Logic of a Dream give way to something completely different, and that can be said of many tracks to the ones following them. Listen to Losing the Light, for example, which follows Disintegration Anxiety, and starts with a somber synthesized piano. It goes along slowly building into something, and then instead of hitting the top or growing into some massive sound, just lulls back into a quiet surrender of music. After Losing the Light, which is soft and light and maybe even a little sad, the band switches gears into something a lot more uptempo and shorter in Infinite Orbit. They like to keep us guessing.
Something important to note about this album is that the band largely refrained from making long songs this time around. The average time of each song is probably around 5 minutes if I felt like doing the math. This is very different from many of their previous releases. The longest song on this album, Colors in Space, is 7:14, which is significantly shorter than most songs from even their most recent album of Take Care. They even have a track on this album that lasts just over two and a half minutes. They took away from a lot of the drama and long sweeping soundscapes by shortening the tracks up, but they sacrificed length for diversity. Instead of having six tracks that drag on for 8+ minutes, they can instead give us nine very different tracks with very different sounds. The album lasts about 46 minutes, and is just about the same length as Take Care. Comparing those albums is simple and difficult at the same time, because the band doesn’t have as much time to explore or roam as they did in tracks like Let Me Back In from Take Care. This leaves less time for drifting, but more time for exploring the different areas of music in your mind. Conceptually, that’s a difficult sentence, so it really only makes sense if you’re listening to the music as you read. These words may not do the music justice, because the music can take you to places my descriptions can’t reach.
At times throughout this album, I feel like I’m travelling through space. I suppose it helps with track titles like Infinite Orbit and Colors in Space, but that’s the interpretation I decided to go with. I started in the Wilderness and went up and far away. It may seem difficult to rank this album without it sounding completely arbitrary, but that’s just what happens with this kind of music. You and I could listen to this album and get two completely different feelings from it. You may hate it, but I rather enjoyed The Wilderness. It feels like it could easily be the soundtrack of a space exploration movie or documentary where there isn’t much dialogue or spoken word. I drew parallels to M83’s Oblivion Soundtrack because do sound and feel alike. It put me in a good place. I’ll give this album 12 ratings units out of 15, because it didn’t blow me away but I enjoyed listening to it from start to finish. I do so enjoy a good post-rock album. Whether this album improved on previous works by Explosions in the Sky may be up to you, but either way this album shows that Explosions is still firmly among the best in the business of post-rock bands. I just hope they don’t wait five years to release another album.
This album releases April 1st, and is not an April Fool’s joke. Actually, a lot of albums are dropping the 1st.