Let me start by explaining the difficulty in reviewing an Explosions In The Sky album. Depending on who you are, their music either hits you instantly, or slowly creeps into your brain at some point down the road. I'm the latter. With most of Explosions’ albums I find myself revisiting their back catalogue and constantly finding something new. In my opinion, that’s what makes a great album.
It may feel like Explosions have taken a little while with the release for their new album; The Wilderness. After all its been 5 years since 2011’s Take Care Take Care Take Care, but in that time they've been pretty busy. They've scored three movies (Prince Avalanche, Lone Survivor and Manglehorn), and guitarist Mark T Smith has collaborated with Eluvium in a more electronic ambient venture under the name of Inventions. Its clear that their foray into film score is reflected in their new release.
The overall sound on The Wilderness is less immediate than past releases. There’s more use of electronics, sparser drum rhythms, ambience, allowing more time to settle on a mood. There’s a refreshing element to it where you’re not punched in the face from the get go.
I had the good fortune of listening to this album at a playback event in the basement of the Soho Hotel in London where it was played to an audience wearing eye masks in a pitch black room. If that sounds a bit lame to you, let me tell you that it was a perfect way to listen to an album by a band with this type of sound. As Explosions are an instrumental group, its hard not to picture their music over something visual, which is why it's no surprise that they took time off to work on scoring movies. At times, The Wilderness feels no different to those releases. I pictured an entire movie throughout and couldn't recall one bit of it after. I was completely entranced the entire way through. I say this because the band have taken a more laid back approach on this one and allowing for a mood to just sit rather than rushed to a somewhat predictable ending. Take the first two tracks for example, they’re barely explosive and hold back just a tad to ease you in before the pace picks up a bit. 'Come Logic of A Dream', the second track released from the album, the drum sound sounds like you’re heading into familiar territory before leading you off in the opposite direction.
For a band so comfortable with a particular sound, they continue to find new ways of exploring and I for one think the movie scoring has benefited their process. Its all still life affirming relatable stuff, but rather than honing in on conjuring up certain emotions (whatever your perception may be), on this release it feels like its much more about focusing on purely the state of just being.