Explosions in the Sky have reached what some might call an impasse in their careers. After churning out 5 albums in 7 years, almost all of which featured their signature and exciting instrumental post-rock sound, they simply vanished for a period of time. 2007’s “All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone” may not have been their strongest effort, but it did do the best for them sales-wise, a likely response to their relentless cycle of recording and touring over the previous few years. Explosions in the Sky are, after all, a thrill to see live, often attacking their songs four electric guitars at a time and not being shy about meandering into extensive and thrashing solos. When you don’t have any singing or lyrics to back you up, that just puts more pressure to keep crowds engaged in what you’re doing, and these guys handle it better than most vocal-heavy bands. They’re also smart and creative enough to differentiate themselves from a number of their counterparts such as Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor via the way they approach each song, sticking to their guitars and meandering through soundscapes rather than establishing the long-running dynamic of the slow build to explosive noise. This is the style that has sustained the band for the entirety of their existence, which hasn’t really needed changing because of its originality but nevertheless might have been getting a little tiresome around 2007. So they vanished for just a little bit, hopefully to think about what they’ve done and where they’ve been and if they could creatively sustain themselves for presumably another few records. So unlike the amazing TV show “Friday Night Lights” which they soundtracked, which is ending this year after five seasons, Explosions in the Sky have chosen to return for their sixth record, “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care”.
If you’ve heard an Explosions in the Sky record before, you can take comfort (and care) that “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” doesn’t do anything to change that dynamic. If anything, this new album is more like a reboot of the EITS sound, bringing things back to their most basic elemental core and doing away with any small indulgences that may have been made on the last couple records (see: piano). Once again the carefully crafted songs are distinctive only to this band, and they prove not only to themselves but everyone else that they know exactly what they’re doing. Many other, relatively similar bands have come and gone these last 10 years, but these guys remain because of their tenacity and smart compositions. The power as well, that invisible driving force behind the music, remains intact along with the ability for these songs to evoke strong emotions ranging from a dark sadness to trembling joy and everything in between. While the band does more often than not take the studious approach with 6+ minute passages, at times they’re able to collapse their ideas down to a normal song length, as “Trembling Hands” does with 3.5 minutes of pure energy, a deft pace established at the outset by some heavy percussion and later met with equal vigor by the guitars. The 8 minutes of “Human Qualities” is purely fascinating for the way it slowly spirals downward into near silence before naturally rebuilding to an even stronger place than where it began. The true highlights of the record though come with the final two tracks. After two sparsely plucked electric guitars spend the first three minutes of “Postcard From 1952” meandering and weaving around one another, the drums begin to stir along with the harmonic mixture of the guitars. The notes themselves prove to be just as compelling as two human voices harmonizing on the high and low end of the same note. The heaviness builds to a tipping point, and as the chords begin to reach red levels, there’s a pull back where everything just calms down and peters out. It’s not about denying what might otherwise be viewed as a tension-relieving payout, but rather exercising restraint in the face of mounting pressure. Very few bands can pull that off in a compelling fashion, and Explosions in the Sky is one of them.
What the closing track “Let Me Back In” does is point squarely in the direction of a future for a band that until recently questioning whether it even had one in the first place. Beginning with a highly muffled tape of a woman speaking slowly twists and turns into a soundscape that is at war with itself. One minute it’s subdued and wandering in a daze while the next it’s charging forwards with the force of a thousand elephants complete with machine gun drumming and white noise guitars that consistently pile on top of one another. It is both a spectacular example of where they came from and their roots inspired by way of Mogwai but also marks progression. There are small pieces in the track’s 10 minute duration that mark new and unexplored territory for Explosions in the Sky. The progression of the song itself is more structured and strategic than before, with not only a clear beginning, middle and end, but also a full circle logic where the song ends exactly where it began – with 30 seconds of this muffled woman crying out into the darkness all alone as the world fades to black around her. Not the most pleasant thought, and it’s not the most pleasant song from the band, but not many people listen to this band to be put in a good mood. It’s the epic closer “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” needs though. While the record itself doesn’t feature the band at the height of their 2003 “Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place” powers, it does serve as a strong reminder of exactly how this band has lasted so long, and why they’ll probably survive another 10 years if they really want to.