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Explosions In The Sky

America’s answer to Brits MOGWAI and Canadians GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR, the cine-mathed EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY have been another tour de force in the post-rock, post-millennium climes. Apart from the odd film soundtrack/score, TV theme work and the video games medium, the triple-guitar-addled instrumentalists now command healthy global sales figures and top-notch reviews for bona fide albums such as `All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone’, `Take Care, Take Care, Take Care’ and `The Wilderness’.
Formed in 1999 in Austin, Texas (initially as Breaker Morant), guitarists Mark Smith, Munaf Rayani and Michael James (the studio bassist) teamed up with drummer Christopher Hrasky.
Creative from the get-go, the release of a self-financed CD-r, HOW STRANGE, INNOCENCE (2000) {*7}, more or less went unnoticed until Temporary Residence Records duly came a-knocking; impressed no doubt by the brittle brush-strokes interweaving within opener `A Song For Our Fathers’, the jangling `Snow And Lights’ and the longest exercise, `Time Stops’.
Unleashed the following September, THOSE WHO TELL THE TRUTH SHALL DIE, THOSE WHO TELL THE TRUTH SHALL LIVE FOREVER (2001) {*8} was a cosmic journey to the epicentre of the mind; a part gothic lo-fi soundscape, a part sonic-metal creation that took them beyond mere MOGWAI and GYBE comparisons. `Greet Death’ opened the record’s account, tamed only by a softer, emotional, but climactic cue in `Yasmin The Light’. Influenced by SONIC YOUTH, The CURE and 70s space-rock/prog, `The Moon Is Down’, to the concluding `With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept’ (not forgetting the whispered dialogue in `Have You Passed Through This Night?), EITS marched on with a relentless, post-apocalyptic staccato beat.
Better still and worth the 2-year wait, 2003’s THE EARTH IS NOT A COLD DEAD PLACE {*9} echoed its predecessor in its melancholic overtones and layered crescendos. Deservedly released a year later for ROBIN GUTHRIE’s Bella Union UK independent, shape-shifting tracks such as `First Breath After Coma’, `Memorial’, `Your Hand In Mine’ and `The Only Moment We Were Alone’ were, indeed, wired to the moon.
Subsequently commissioned by producer Brian Reitzell to supply part of the soundtrack (alongside various artists) to FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004) {*6}, EITS were now very much part of the “rock” establishment. Both sombre and quietly uplifting at times (check out openers, `From West Texas’, `Our Last Days As Children’, `An Ugly Fact Of Life’, `Ugly’ and a repeat prescription of `Your Hand In Mine’), the wistful quartet eased themselves into the proceedings while instrumentally painting that lush, luminous landscape. Getting back into the spirit of things (after passages by DANIEL LANOIS, DAVID TORN and BAD COMPANY), EXPLOSIONS played out the remainder of the Hip-O-endorsed soundtrack with two dynamic dirges, `The Sky Above, The Field Below’ (featuring Reitzell, himself) and `A Slow Dance’; the latter being self-explanatory… beyond the field of dreams.
Taking time out to extricate themselves from numerous, and sometimes, cutting comparisons to Scots engineers MOGWAI, the strategic ALL OF A SUDDEN I MISS EVERYONE (2007) {*8} opened their transatlantic chart account, albeit with a small deposit (US 76/UK 58). Instrumental variations had been a difficult exercise to maintain throughout yesteryear, from the turn of the 50s/60s to the post-millennium crop that had arrived on the back of TORTOISE and their ilk, the natural conclusion was that ideas would ultimately run short. This was not the case for the cathartic and climactic crescendos that developed over the course of tracks, `The Birth And The Death Of The Day’, `Catastrophe And The Cure’ and the 13-minute `It’s Natural To Be Afraid’; that aside and against the run of play, a 3-minute piano-led piece, `So Long, Lonesome’, ended the dramatic set.
Another four years down the line, 2011’s TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE {*8}, found EITS in unfamiliar Top 20 territory (UK Top 60). Their pint always half-full rather than half-empty, the sprouting shoots of each track timelessly warmed the frozen landscapes of each passage, this time around, showcased by prog-length pieces from `Last Known Surroundings’ to `Let Me Back In’ (the shout-y 3-minute `Trembling Hands’ another exception to the rule).
Subsequently concentrating solely on collaborative soundtrack work (at least for a few years), EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY intentionally took their foot off the sonic pedal to come up with a triumvirate of highly sought-after scores. First up under their OST itinerary, PRINCE AVALANCE (2013) {*7}, saw them work with fellow Austin resident, David Wingo; the shorter and spreadable themes balancing nicely for the David Gordon Green comedy-drama. Sandwiched between a second Wingo workout, MANGLEHORN (2015) {*6} – which was limited to a digital-only release – the LONE SURVIVOR (2014) {*6} created a darker and serene setting that was equally down to orchestral co-composer Steve Jablonsky.
Prised away from his secondary collaborations with ELUVIUM’s Matthew Cooper, in moody, electro-duo INVENTIONS (two sets: `Inventions’ and `Maze Of Woods’), Mark T. Smith and his EITS crew were back in the saddle for the transatlantic Top 40, THE WILDERNESS (2016) {*8}. Rather than spacing out minimalist themes over half-a-dozen numbers, here, there were nine codas and cadences to log into. Much more in line with TORTOISE than MOGWAI, the explorative woofers and tweeters turned the dials to enlightening curveballs such as `Tangle Formations’, `Disintegration Anxiety’, `Colors In Space’ and the pounding `Logic Of A Dream’. The piano-led monotone opening cue, `Wilderness’, took time to build in to its spine-tingling climax, whilst the shorter `The Ecstatics’ and the percussive `Infinite Orbit’, almost landed further killer punches.
© MC Strong 2008/LCS-MCS // rev-up MCS Apr2016

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