By Explosions in the Sky
Texas guitar band Explosions in the Sky have been building themselves a reputation over a slow-burning three years of intense and single-minded music making. Associated loosely with And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and Lift to Experience, they have more in common with that US tradition than with the GodSpeed! and Sigur Ros who are more often cited in their praise.
The track listing for this album has five songs. But on double vinyl, with three sides of music and one side of bas-relief decorative birds, the three "movements" which the songs fall into make more sense. There are no words anyway, and no break between songs 1 and 2 or between 3 and 4. The vinyl is marked as "The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place", "Because You Are Listening" and "Because You Are Breathing". So that's how I listened. Three chunks of very luscious music.
Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani play guitar; Chris Hrasky drums; and Michael James plays bass. It's very simple really. There are one or two effects pedals and very few (if any) overdubs. The sound is ringingly clear, perhaps lighter on bass than the live set will be, but with as much dynamic range as it's possible to get from the classic guitar band line-up. The music is heart-rendingly optimistic and patient. There's an underlying heart-like drum/bass pulse to the first two movements, and a thrilling breakout into 6/8 time for the last six or seven minutes. The threat of global catastrophe seems to have passed over and a dance begins. Perhaps it's the euphoric swirl hoped-for by post-Stone Roses bands like The Music.
The basic shape is a restrained drums and bass, with two guitars swapping and entwining lead passages and sometimes swirling in background sheets of chords or effects. The mind follows the lead guitar, the heart moves with the rhythm section. Listening evokes images of a journey, with a landscape that constantly changes but never breaks. All along the way there are melodic delights. Volume levels build up steadily, with plateaus for thought. And even as the thunderous parts rage, the clear tune on one guitar continues to sing out. The result is that you either concentrate hard, completely drawn-in, or you're not listening at all. A vocal track would utterly break the spell.
Compared to earlier work, this album is crisp and confident. They seem to be a band who have come into their prime, with the fullest possible expression of what their current musical ambition could want. Those who have followed them from the beginning seem to be ready for the next shift. For those of us laggards who have just caught up with them, the earlier albums (one currently unavailable) look very enticing. Tickets for the current UK tour (Leeds soon) are flying out.