THE WILDERNESS by Explosions in the Sky

the wilderness

Genre: Post-Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Disintegration Anxiety,” “Infinite Orbit”

Explosions in the Sky have become a strange band to try to wrestle with in the last few years. While it’s undeniable that the band has released some staggeringly impactful post-rock records in their time, they’ve also recently shifted to mostly writing film scores. They’ve certainly not been bad scores per se, but they’ve also not lived up to the thematic cohesion seen on their albums since they are supporting narratives and images rather than standing alone as works. It’s why it feels a little odd at this point to reengage with Explosions in the Sky as an actual band rather than a group of film composers. Yet here we are, five years after the release of TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, attempting to make sense of the Texas quartet’s newest album: THE WILDERNESS.

 

THE WILDERNESS paradoxically finds the band playing with digitally manipulated sounds and textures rather than any sense of nature. For an album that would, by the title, seem to be striving for an encapsulation of the sheer power of nature, THE WILDERNESS at best captures the whitewashed malaise of being another anonymous person in a big city. With drum machines, melancholic keys, and songs that drift and fade rather than swelling and erupting, it’s difficult to hear where exactly anything organic and natural is meant to fit in the soundscapes the band creates. It’s this strange confusion in intention that really makes the record hard to get behind; it’s difficult not to feel like the band itself isn’t sure what it’s going for anymore. What’s generally made EitS so poignant and effective in the past is an ability to come up with poetic song titles and transpose those evocative feelings into sounds, “First Breath After Coma” and “Trembling Hands” being particularly prescient examples.

 

In general, almost all the tracks on THE WILDERNESS consistently fail to live up to the promise of their track titles, never eliciting the strong emotional responses which they’re clearly striving for. “Logic of a Dream” fails to feel ethereal or dreamlike, instead dropping the listener into sudden, jarring shifts that in fact seem to follow little progression or logic at all. Dreams may not follow the progression and order of daily life, but this track more aptly feels like the bits and pieces of compositions and melodies Explosions couldn’t find other uses for. If the band were really trying to go for the disorienting feeling of being lost in a dream, it shouldn’t be so easy to get lost in the same dull grooves as the rest of the record for a few minutes at a time before clumsily dropping the listener into a different groove. It’s perhaps the most egregious example of where Explosions in the Sky have lost what’s made them so great in the past, their ability to crescendo, decrescendo, and for lack of a better term, explode, with a rich interplay of weaving guitar work.

Gone is any sense of the songs building to some epic, cathartic conclusion, instead the tracks middle and meander with little sense of purpose or drive. The few tracks that do seem to sonically build to something interesting are also the ones that frustratingly end the soonest (“The Ecstatics,” “Disintegration Anxiety,” “Infinite Orbit”). The runtime of the tracks is generally antithetical to how Explosions has worked best in the past; no track clocks in over eight minutes, meaning the group doesn’t give themselves time to establish one melodic idea and then layer more and more on top of it as they’ve usually done. Instead of the usual crashing waves of intricate songwriting we’ve come to expect from them, we’re left with tepid and pedantic imitations of the they band used to be.

 

Maybe Explosions in the Sky are aging and just don’t feel as deeply and passionately as they once did. Maybe writing film scores has left them unable to look internally for an emotional source to their music. Maybe it’s entirely none of my business as a reviewer to project those things onto what I’m sure are a group of perfectly nice gentlemen from Austin that I’ve never met, but no matter the source, this remains an entirely blasé and forgettable release. It doesn’t diminish the great records they’ve put out over the past two decades, but it’s hard to imagine this being a point in their careers anyone particularly points to even a few years from now.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Carter Moon grew up in the desolate Evangelic capital of the world and responded by developing a taste in counter culture, which eventually bloomed into a love for filmmaking and screenwriting. Carter has average opinions on most things, but will defend them adamantly and loudly until no one else wants to bother speaking up. He runs Crossfader's podcast, IN THE CROSSHAIRS.

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