Review: Explosions in the Sky, “The Wilderness” (2016)

EITS Wilderness.jpg

Catharsis. Crescendo. Introspection. Reverb. Texas post-rock band Explosions in the Sky (EITS) finally return with a brand new album, The Wilderness – their first in 5 yearsBut was their venture out of the wilderness worth the wait?

One of the issues with post-rock music is that is can quickly become formulaic and predictable. EITS reached their peak with 2006’s All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone which followed their amazing 2003 album, The World is not a Cold Dead Place. Constantly charting for deep and new emotional territory with reverb, delay, fuzz, Fender Strats and drums can only take you so far. The fatigue of this combination began to appear in the band’s 2011 album, Take Care Take Care Take Care. Thankfully, The Wilderness shows EITS charting new territory and (almost) creating an entirely new sound for themselves.

From the opening track, Wilderness, the incorporation of electronic elements is apparent, with pulsating synths gradually increasing in intensity. The track builds gradually in typical EITS form, with the full band joining in with big sounds. Track 2, The Ecstatics, is still familiar with the reverb-ridden guitars, but with a drum machine accompanying the build-up; in a beat not too far from one you’d find in dub-step. This track is also quite repetitive, reaching the typical EITS crescendo.

So far, so EITS, with slight differences.

Then things really change.

The typical directions the band goes in which I’ve come to love and expect – repetitive lines, beautiful melodies and motifs that crescendo – are rarer in this album than others. On my first listen, I felt like the album was quite disjointed, random at times, and lacking any ‘hooks’. Upon my second listen, I realised that the band was subverting the expectations they’d crafted as pioneers of the post-rock genre. Just listen to Logic of a Dream. It begins with their standard reverb saturated guitar, but then there are these huge, epic bursts of synth, followed by the sounds of a plummeting aeroplane and then big, tribal drumming. This motif goes on for some time, reaching a crescendo and having the same aeroplane-plummeting sounds. Then a harp enters and it turns into a semi-indie rock groove. Just when you think they will build a motif to crescendo, it suddenly changes. The next track, Disintegration Anxiety, follows a similar mish-mash of ideas; of epic sounds with big drumming and frantic guitars. The final two tracks, Colours in Space and Landing Cliffs, are practically ambient tracks reminiscent of Brian Eno, Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack, a hint of Vangelis and plenty of arpeggiators and reverb. (By the way, in Landing Cliffs, I finally got the hook I longed for).

After several soundtracks (Friday Night Lights, Prince Avalanche, Lone Survivor and Manglehorn) we thought EITS has been absorbed by the shaky cam of Peter Berg, but they have returned triumphantly with The Wilderness. As a fan of the band, I would say this is their least accessible album yet, but one that needs to be pondered and mulled over. Like any fine wine (I’m not a great wine drinker), you must smell it, sip it and savour it.

I also noticed this time that instead of taking me into an introspective space like their previous albums, this album is about wonder – the wonder of new sounds and a new vision. As I said, it was very Zimmer-like at times, and if it is channelling the sounds of the Interstellar soundtrack, then we look to a new frontier indeed, definitely not the final one.

Is this indeed EITS out of the wilderness? Very much almost.

Have a listen:

The Wilderness


richard thomas

Review medium: Spotify Premium

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