Explosions in the Sky‘s new album seems to exist in a wilderness. It’s a wide open space where the potential for new musical directions sonic and melodic alike seem to exist at every corner. The post-rock band’s cool guitars can merge seamlessly with a newfound interest in drums of all shapes and sizes. But for every new opportunity for musical growth in this wilderness, there seems to also exist a dozen ways to get lost in the wild- with no map in sight.
From some of the first moments of the album’s introduction aptly named “Wilderness”, the environment of this record becomes clear. The band has surrounded itself with a vast array of trees separating itself from most-every bit of their past. There is very little in the way of linear storytelling this time around, much unlike the still lyric-less yet very conceptual nature of The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place along with other albums past. The band instead puts forward what appears more like a series of discrete vignettes from their very own wilderness. It’s an idea that sounds interesting enough on paper, but the concept in execution ends up being about as rewarding as the sectioning off of an actual wilderness, creating all sorts of disturbances in the flow of nature.
There are nine tracks in The Wilderness, most-all of which feature a title vivid enough to paint a detailed picture on a name-basis alone. The intro track “Wilderness” does beautiful work painting that picture, in this case, of a hopeful wilderness sprouting with new musical ideas. Subtly synths slowly but surely lead the track into a stunning blend of pianos, percussion, and cool guitars, creating something of a tech-savvy version of Death Cab for Cutie‘s “Transatlanticism” at no expense of the latter track’s profound emotion. The passionate percussion of this track is elevated to an entirely new level with following track “The Ecstatics” which emanates every bit of joy and hopefulness that its title implies. The beautifully titled closer “Landing Cliffs” brings down the tempo of its pianos and atmospheric synths to perfectly capture to peaceful nature of the seaside cliff its title depicts, with some acoustic guitar to boot.
“Tangle Formations” however is a track that illustrates the trouble of a track sounding true to its title. Throughout its three minute-long run, the track seems desperately tangled in a drum-and-piano loop amounting to only a fraction of the intensity it tries to. “Logic of a Dream” is what Explosions in the Sky sounds like when they really aren’t quite sure where they’re headed in this musical wilderness of theirs. There is quite a bit of beauty in each individual piece of the track, but the track’s complete lack of direction with the addition of each new piece proves far more unrewarding than exciting. Something of an alternative to the frustrating nature of these tracks is the complete aimlessness of “Losing the Light”, an extended-interlude that offers a decent bit of musical variety to chew on, but ultimately passes the listener by providing little to remember the track by.
For all of The Wilderness’s musical frustrations, there is some very real satisfaction in the dialogue the record seems to have. A track like “Disintegration Anxiety“, still cool as ever, continues to point a middle finger towards the band’s past in favor of a new beginning, something this album very certainly achieves. After all, the band’s previous disposition to longer post-rock epics has not appeared exactly limitless with the band’s rehashing of old ideas on their most recent Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. For Explosions in the Sky to say goodbye to the past is undoubtedly a satisfying achievement in its own right.
And with saying goodbye to their past, The Wilderness sees Explosions in the Sky saying hello to their future by completely reconstructing their sound from the ground up with the tools in their very own wilderness. What the band got in return however was an incredible new sound both natural and electronic in nature. If only band committed to this new sound instead of merely flirting with it.
And now for a handful of soundtracks.