Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
4.1 out of 5
Austin, Texas’ Explosions In The Sky is one of those bands that hit you like a ton of emotional bricks. Their rapturous crescendos and diminuendos are often accompanied with an emotional gravitas sorely lacking in contemporary music. The fact that Explosions achieves this feat in the general absence of vocals is all the more impressive. Broadly branded as “post-rock”, a label the band continues to vehemently reject, Explosions has been tossed among similar artists of the genre. And though there are obvious similarities, most notably the loud/soft dynamic and instrumental nature, to my ear, Explosions has always operated on another playing field; not necessarily “better”, but undoubtedly unique. Explosions has never sought to play harder and louder than their contemporaries (see Mogwai), to be overtly political (see Godspeed), or to be avant garde (see Do Make Say Think), rather, Explosions has taken the middle ground, appealing to an emotional warmth and richness often absent from their peers’ work.
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is the band’s fifth proper LP, and first since 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. Though Take Care is largely business as usual, the four-year break between records has brought a renewed sense of focus and direction missing from their last LP. Moreover, the band has taken a decidedly different approach in the album’s arrangements. In a recent interview with Spin magazine, members Michael James and Munaf Rayani stated that on past Explosions records the goal had been to strictly write songs that could be performed live: “recording an album is basically just making a document of these songs as we play them live. [For Take Care]… we wanted to make the songs as they sounded in our head, as opposed to how we could make them sound onstage.” This change of approach has resulted most notably in additional overdubs, and though it’s a welcome development in the band’s sound, it’s hardly a paradigm shift.
The opening track, “Last Known Surroundings”, easily bests the majority of All of a Sudden. Opening with droning, e-bow laden guitars, and what sounds like a rather ill ticking clock, the band quickly announces that despite a discography stretching back to 2000, there’s still plenty of fuel left in the tank. The acoustic guitar driven transition at the halfway point gives way to one hell of a payoff with the band firing on all cylinders, eventually pushing to a crashing crescendo. The second track, “Human Qualities” speaks to some of the aforementioned overdubs; incorporating drum treatments, handclaps, strings, additional percussion and vocal harmonies. Though clearly evident, the additional layers on the track are subtle enough to be complementary without being distracting. Ironically, it’s the shortest and most unique track here that fails to resonate. “Trembling Hands” starts off interestingly enough, with mountainous drumming and a clever vocal loop. The three and a half minute running time however incorporates too much too fast, and results in awkwardly forced transitions.
The standout track here is “Postcard from 1952”. At 7:07, the track doesn’t waste a second of its running time. Opening with a simple, slow moving guitar line, the track gradually builds before exploding in a cascade of guitars around the five and a half minute mark. Speaking of which, the cascading guitars at the beginning of the album’s closer, “Let Me Back In”, are striking, while the climax of the track is one of the heavier crescendos in their repertoire. With a grimy guitar underpinning and drumming salvo, the song will reverberate in the pit of your stomach, before its denouement gently drifts off into the sunset. At 10:07 the track pushes its luck slightly, though all of the pieces of the puzzle are there and it proves to be a worthy closer.
Despite some compelling guitar counterpoint, the real treat of Take Care is Chris Hrasky’s drumming. Long the driving force of Explosions’ unique instrumental sound, the band seems to have resigned itself to his crushing power and have clearly pushed the drums up in the mix. Though this will no doubt be overpowering to some, to my ear, it adds an emotional depth and a sense of urgency I felt was largely absent on their last LP.
So there you have it: another Explosions record. Detractors will argue it’s more of the same, yet another demonstration of a band that has failed to change with the times. Perhaps. Though Take Care is hardly a game changer, it doesn’t make it any less of a fantastic record. What Explosions does, it does exceptionally well and the fact that fans and critics alike are still paying attention eleven years later is evidence of that. There’s an emotional intensity with Explosions’ work that is at times haunting, but always compelling, and until it isn’t, I’ll keep listening.
- Ewan Christie