Monday, May 9, 2016

Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness (2016)

The Wilderness
is the 7th studio release by the American post-rock band Explosions in the Sky. It proves to be most probably one of the softest and subtlest Explosions’ albums so far. The band’s music is known for being a great soundtrack material, they have also specifically written film scores in the past. With the new album their style continues to characterise scenes of sorts – the emotion behind the sound of Explosions’ creation makes it easy to see why their music is largely used in films. The Wilderness also suggests that EITS is discovering new grounds, different ways to look at music, at life in general. The track titles imply that the band is going far dimensions: „Disintegration Anxiety“ may refer to a lift-off, when the sheer force makes one feel like one’s falling to pieces; whereas „Infinite Orbit“ hints that when faced with a multitude of space, ideas and possibilities, the only thing that one can do is to marvel at it all. So as always, Explosions’ music tells a story, it lets the imagination run free, it gives the space for the listener to contemplate, at the same time delivering a symphony of sounds – as they were colors in space.

Although, I doubt whether The Wilderness can be called post-rock anymore: it’s rather different from the majestic greatness that Explosions’ evoked with their earlier albums, that unveiled tracks that were 9–12 minutes in length. Here the longest piece lasts for 7 minutes and 14 seconds, which is a remarkable change, considering that the previous studio album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care featured a track that ran for 10 minutes and 7 seconds.

Obviously one cannot say that the lenght of the piece dictates over how powerful impact the music has on the listener. Don’t get me wrong – The Wilderness still stands for what Explosions’ is known for: its often dream-like disposition can and will suddenly change either into a low guitar rhythm or a sequence of snare drums, bass, electronics and orchestral instruments. Yet the mood is kind of restrained, the listeners aren’t smothered in the sheer mass of instrumental destruction. No, this feels way more laid-back compared to the earlier stuff that the four guys from Austin have released. As it is complex matter to review music that has absolutely no lyrics, I’ll try to describe the different notions I experienced as follows.

(The tracks in perhaps a higher quality)

„Wilderness“ sounds like running through the forest, exploring the surroundings. Maybe stopping every once in awhile to breathe in the moist air. Slowly gathering itself and repeating the rhythm, it gives a great introduction to the journey one’s about to experience when listening to this album. Towards the end of the track the listener is out of the forest, large plains are to be seen as far the eye reaches.

„The Ecstatics“ also has a repeating rhythm that keeps on going throughout the track. It reminds me level music of a vintage video game. The mellow beginning changes mid-part, into a orchestra of instruments, the epic drums play a huge role in creating this ecstatic mood of the track.

„Tangle Formations“ fits most with EITS has done before – the „punch“ is close to the beginning of the track and the guitars and drums go playing almost straight away. There are well-suited parts where the tempo goes down – this isn’t heavy metal, right? – and the mellow guitar rhythms take over. The magic of EITS is noticeable, it is distinctively straightforward.

One of the lengthiest tracks of the album is „Logic Of A Dream“. The second single of The Wilderness has the slow quiet start, but soon the epic dream sequence begins: it seems that EITS had „falling asleep“ in mind when they recorded this track: not in the boring blissful way that a baby falls asleep, but literal falling – from a high-story building or a cliff, into an abyss of dark thoughts and reminisques. At times it does sound like something that would accompany Mccounaughey in the fourth dimension. But then again, much happier tunes take over – perhaps now a baby could rest listening to it. This changes during the last two minutes of the track as one hears some kind of echos – is the dream collapsing?

„Disintegration Anxiety“ is the first single from the album and it features a lot of interesting elements – stangely it was released on the same day that David Bowie left this world. The intro reminds me a mixture of sounds that metal objects would cause when you’re driving past them at high speed – a bridge, the massive skyscrapers of metropolises... Then a guitar follows, which changes into one of the most fascinating sequence of guitars and drums I’ve ever heard. The relatively simple guitar pattern plays almost throughout the track, there’s something awfully catchy in it. The ending brings back the electric guitar and the energetic sound fades away.

„Losing The Light“ – heartbeats from a distance change into guitar static, a piano and a string instrument soon enter. Compared to other tracks is this one very calm and slow. Electronic music insturments are also used in here, as well as this precice rhythm that at times can feel quite monotonous. The title may refer that this is the sound of the setting sun – or, this may be death itself.
„Infinite Orbit“ is one of the most rock-like tracks of the album and with 2 minutes and 38 seconds it is also the shortest audio from the album. Its gradual rise isn’t that impressive and since it only lasts for two and a half minutes, then it feels kind of unfinished – something that certainly isn’t inherent to Explosions in the Sky.

The longest track by 7 minutes and 14 seconds is „Colors In Space“. The introductory features a strange metal cable sound, just as a wire would do after it has been cut. Again a guitar sequence follows. The track mostly inhabits swell, positive-sounding vibrations and at times it feels more like an ambient band. The middle changes considerably as a whole different beat starts playing. Sunny vibes take a different form at the very last minute, which just sounds like a black hole is successfully absorbing you in.

The 9th and final track of The Wilderness, „Landing Cliffs“ is a contemplation on poetry in music – it ... it doesn’t sound post-rock at all, the pace and patience of the track suggest this being the work of Stumbleine, for example – or something that one could find when in search of „relaxing studying music“ from Youtube.

Overall, the album holds together quite nice – there aren’t tracks that differ that much from each other. Somehow a parallel with M83’s Junk comes to mind – an album that dropped only a week after The Wilderness was released. Junk received some pretty harsh reviews, that blabbed about how this was a major detour by M83 and not towards the right direction. Luckily this is not a problem for Explosions in the Sky – sure, they took an excursion from their usual always-a-magnum-opus style to deliver something more private, more solitary; and it paid off. Well, at least mostly it did. The highlights of this album, „Tangle Formations“ and „Disintegration Anxiety“ are distinctively similar to EITS’s music in the past, whilst some other tracks from The Wilderness can sound either boring or tiresome, due to the same rhythm going on and on and on. For breaking a habit and taking a break from the soundtrack business to deliever an album that has some very impressing soundscapes, I’d give The Wilderness 7/10.

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