[7 August 2013]
Since it doesn’t appear on the CD or LP copies of the Prince Avalanche original soundtrack, this disclaimer is important: this is not an Explosions in the Sky album. Unlike Mogwai‘s score for the French prime-time zombie drama Les Revenants, released earlier this year, Prince Avalanche OST is a significant enough of a departure from Explosions’ (de)crescendo-centric style that it doesn’t merit the studio LP label. (Les Revenants is not technically classified as such, though it certainly feels that way.)
Inevitably, much of the draw of this album comes from the involvement of the band, especially considering the indelible mark it left on the music for the film and television iterations of Friday Night Lights. For Prince Avalanche, which is being touted as director David Gordon Green’s comeback following the middling comedies Your Highness and The Sitter, Explosions team up with composer David Wingo to create a sonic landscape that’s not built on ebb-and-swell dynamics in the way most have come to expect them to be. Anyone looking for a redux of “Your Hand in Mine” will leave sorely disappointed.
On the whole, Prince Avalanche OST is tastefully subdued. The opening figure of “Theme from Prince Avalanche” brings to mind the gentle, ambient passages of Philip Glass’ landmark score for Koyaanisqatsi. “Rain” sounds like a leftover cut from Nightmare Ending, the newest LP by Explosion’s Temporary Residence labelmate Eluvium. With the mean song length of this album ticking quickly at two and a half minutes, the dominant mood is intimate and reflective, a feature that usually only appears in fragments on most Explosions LPs. What’s even more surprising is how underplayed the guitar is here; with respect to arrangements, it’s piano that rises to the forefront. When the guitars do come in, they’re usually of the light, fingerpicked quality, rather than the soaring melodic lines of Explosions’ all-too-familiar style.
Those who come to Prince Avalanche OST expecting that style will feel shorted, but in the end what makes this score hugely refreshing is how Explosions temper down the dynamic swells. After awhile, there’s only so much a crescendo can do—even a really good one. By working with Wingo, who collaborated with Gordon Green for his contemporary classic George Washington back in 2000, the band wisely restrains itself from post-rock’s loud/soft excesses. Upon hearing tracks like the lovely, lilting “Hello, This is Your House,” one can only wonder what Explosions has left on the cutting room floor with past studio outings. Being free from the confines of a signature sound does wonders for these Texans. Post-rock has long been called a genre full of albums for yet unseen films, but few ever escape its hallmarks in order to create something that actually sounds like a movie score, which the musicians here have done in an admirable fashion.
The limitations of Prince Avalanche OST that somewhat hamper these songs have nothing to do with Explosions or Wingo’s songwriting capabilities. Film music can be a great place for a composer to create a unique voice, but in the end it’s the images on the screen that dictate the flow of the music. Based on the aggregate and average length of the tracks on this soundtrack, there isn’t a ton of music in Prince Avalanche. The majority of these cuts clock in between one to two and a half minutes, giving snippets of ideas that are usually quite enticing; it’s just a shame that many aren’t given as much room to develop. Undoubtedly this caused by the demands of Gordon Green’s film, but it nonetheless remains disappointing for the listener. Similarly, while it’s nice to see Explosions not opt for the sonic they’re most known for, at the same time some volume would have been a nice element to this score—albeit not anything close to the amounts on their studio work. But, again, when writing for cinema, sacrifices have to be made.
At the time of writing this review, I had not yet seen Prince Avalanche, and since judging a soundtrack does in large part involve the context in which it’s required to function, I cannot speak as to how it matches with Gordon Green’s cinematic venture. As a standalone record, however, Prince Avalanche OST captures a new way for Explosions in the Sky to make instrumental music, even if that requires some circumspection that pulls too tightly on the reins when a looser grip might have been the right move.