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It’s not every day you stumble across a pure music-driven instrumental band, but Explosions in the Sky are just that – devoid of any lyricism, or vocal expression. It places pressure on band to drive forward the music, and record, with the melodies they create cohesively. By combining their post-rock sounds, comparable to a group like Brand New, with haunting, isolated ambiance, it creates a sound that is nothing short of cinematic; which is appropriate, given their work has featured in a number of films and television programs.
In a previous review of another similar group, I pondered whether these cathartic epics, crafted by groups like Explosions in the Sky, are the “big band” music of our generation. This record, ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care’ (herein referred to as ‘Take Care’) is a cogent argument supporting that notion. It’s elaborate, thought-provoking and almost possesses a narrative quality.
‘Take Care’, the group’s sixth studio record, is a fascinating ride. Over time they’ve continued to develop their strongest asset in patience. In past efforts, they’d almost rush that vital crescendo, as they prematurely unleash their distortion-soaked mayhem. On this occasion, they take the time to build; and the record benefits as a result.
It’s a long record considering there are only six tracks on offer, with a number of them ticking well over the eight minute mark. The first track “Last Known Surroundings” is a warm and relaxing affair, with the main theme, consistent throughout most of the track, having such a soothing resolution. All the while, a distressing howl from a guitar creates an underlying sense of worry, or urgency that gradually builds, pushing the track along to its big climax.
“Human Qualities” opens with clean riff that has that familiar quality to it, as though you’d heard it before. Almost three minutes in, we receive our first real insight into what makes Explosions in the Sky a bizarrely curious band. A brief intermission in the music occurs, where the stark emptiness takes over. After a minute of light pitter-patter, a crescendo, epic in scale, begins to take shape. The final five minutes of “Human Qualities” is nothing short of brilliance, and set in motion my admiration for this band.
While “Trembling Hands” is the shortest track of the record, it has a lot going on within such a brief timeframe. It is three and a half minutes of pure hysteria, and perhaps the most frantic track of the record. It’s quite a contrast when measured alongside some of the other more cathartic songs on-disc, but it’s hard not to reflect on what it might mean to the band, and to the unknown narrative.
“Be Comfortable, Creature” is perhaps my favourite track on ‘Take Care’. It has a soft, subtle sound to it that never seems to escalate; on that point, it’s probably the most consistent track off the record. The track closes out with another signature, gaping hole in proceedings where the void is soon filled with some incredibly moody swells from a distorted guitar – it was simple, but effective because it maintained a melody. Track of the record, for mine.
The closing two tracks really hammer home the feel of the record. “Postcard From 1952” starts a bit slowly but progresses into a catchy track. If there’s one thing Explosions in the Sky excel at, it’s penning music that is just, for lack of a better term, pretty. Their guitar leads are simply gorgeous, forging any melody the band possesses. I mean, the low end is important for any band, but they don’t really shine on ‘Take Care’. “Let Me Back In” is a monster of a track at just over ten minutes. It’s pretty much the ultimate track for the record, seeming to have it all. It’s got the relaxation factor covered, it’s got angst and if my ear isn’t tricking me, it even has a touch of back masking at the end there.
I wasn’t sure what to expect really when I took on this record, but Explosions in the Sky has been a pleasant surprise. As with all of these ambient-driven groups, they’d be better appreciated live I’m sure, but their work translates beautifully onto record. I hope outside of their on-stage, recording and touring opportunities that they continue to feature in film, too, as their sound is meant for the big screen. If Reznor can pull it off, these guys can too.
1. Last Known Surroundings
2. Human Qualities
3. Trembling Hands
4. Be Comfortable, Creature
5. Postcard From 1952
6. Let Me Back In