‘The Wilderness’ by Explosions in the Sky

It’s unfortunate that the music of Explosions in the Sky has become so widespread that I often hear people mock the delayed guitars and thunderous drums as stand-in soundtrack music for any momentous life event.

When I was 16, I begged the earth for this type of music. Mogwai, Pelican, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor all got close, but all lacked narrative melody. I wanted the emotion, dynamic range, and complexity of an orchestra, but with my favorite instrument (electric guitar) replacing the violins. Texas rewarded me not long after.

I was 21-years-old and living in Chicago. A good friend and former bandmate of mine was traveling back to our hometown in Minnesota and picked me up for the last leg of the road trip. We quickly moved into a musical review of the last few years.

“I think you’ll like this,” he said as the first few notes of “Greet Death” from their 2001 album ‘Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever” played. Within a minute, I knew I had discovered a band I would avidly follow for the rest of their career.

‘The Wilderness’ stays true to Explosion’s winning formula of melodic guitar, pacing drums, and wide sonic dynamics. What’s new on this album is shorter song lengths, the use of distortion on the drums, and very interesting percussive sonics from the guitars that mimic synthesizers. There’s also the nice return of the piano that was found sparsely throughout 2007’s ‘All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone.”

Critics hail this album as the best since 2003’s ‘The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place,’ and I’d agree that it is great, but I enjoy all of their albums in their own way. The band uses visual art and song titles to give the listener some hints as to the inspiration behind the albums. Over time, I’ve gone much beyond these clues and invented entire story lines for each album. I find myself getting lost in these imaginary tales as I listen. So far, my take on ‘The Wilderness’ is that it tells the tale of a futuristic space voyage that is long, but groundbreaking. The space travelers deal with loniliness, physical changes in their bodies, and the discovery of a new, exotic place.

Explosions definitely provide a soundtrack for any activity, but I embrace that. Their music makes time move. I’ve used their music several times in barista competitions and I almost always find it helps to create movement in an otherwise boring format. In the cafe, it brings life without demanding attention.