May 6, 2011

Explosions solidify post-rock reputation

It’s perhaps every music fan’s worst nightmare that their favorite band’s new album will only pale in comparison to their previous work. Yet, with Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, Explosions in the Sky return after nearly four years of silence, showcasing everything that made their longtime fans fall in love, all while breaking into new sonic territory. From start to finish, Take Care reminds old post-rock fans why they started listening to the band in the first place and delivers a vivid listening experience for new listeners.

The album’s first track, “Last Known Surroundings,” once again displays Explosions’ penchant for explosive openers. The song has everything the band is known yet wastes no time, giving the listener a taste of how the band has evolved in the last four years. All of the classic Explosions elements are there – the spiraling guitars, the serene lows and celestial highs, and a build that crescendos like a raging steam engine – but the band’s sound is reinvigorated and reinvented. The drums are more vibrant, the guitars are more powerful, the background details are more intriguing.

“Surroundings” winds down and transitions into “Human Qualities,” another unarguably classic Explosions track in more ways than one. The track highlights the band’s knack for pleasant post-rock ambiance, but new sounds still abound. The band gets experimental with the percussion early on, and out of nowhere we hear harmonizing vocals for the second time in Explosions history (the first being one of the tracks from the highly improvisational and experimental 2005 album The Rescue). Beyond those elements, they break out another incredible build that is sure to go down as one of the band’s greatest, even rivaling songs like “Birth and Death of the Day” and “First Breath After the Coma.”

The album then makes an awkward shift into the one-off “Trembling Hands.” The band still sounds like itself here, but the track seems to closely resemble the sound of British indie bands of the 2000s more than post-rock, which is pretty surprising given the band’s usual sound. “Hands” also slightly disrupts the album’s flow. Nevertheless, the track is upbeat, fun, and stars bassist Michael James and drummer Chris Hrasky going at it like madmen, keeping the time while guitarists Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith play off each other with interesting syncopation.

With “Be Comfortable, Creature” and “Postcards from 1952,” the band returns to the flow established with the first two tracks. Here we see Explosions doing what they do best, crafting emotional, passionate, and beautiful post-rock that plays out in almost cinematic perfection.

Take Care closes with the surprisingly creepy “Let Me Back In,” which, as its name suggests, is an extremely trippy, paranoid, and almost desperate sounding track. The song begins with a haunting vocal loop that is barely audible yet cannot be ignored as it sets the tone before going into the album’s final build. We can still hear the desperation, but as can be expected from Explosions, there is an unavoidable optimism and sense of hope as the band summits the album’s peak covering the full range from musical whisper to symphonic explosion. Finally, Take Care descends, slowly stripping away its layers, leaving us with that haunting vocal loop as a sort of ellipsis for what is yet to come from post-rock’s greatest band.

Explosions in the Sky’s every album is an almost spiritual experience, and Take Care is no exception. The highs are heavier, the lows are lovelier, and the passion with which the band has played throughout their career seems only to grow. The instrumentation is as gorgeous as we would expect from Explosions, with the exclusion being Chris Hrasky’s show-stealing drums, which exhibit a sort of ferocity and urgency that plays a large role in the album’s reinvigorated sound. What results is an amazing album that does everything but disappoint, raising the bar even higher and leaving Explosions fans with a new sense of anxiety, hoping that the next album will even come close to being as good as Take Care.