Explosions in the Sky tinker with their cinematic formula just enough to keep things interesting, crafting their best and most satisfying album in years.
There’s a moment on “Human Qualities”, the second track on post-rock titans Explosions in the Sky’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, where the militaristic drums slowly fade out and silence seeps into the mix -- a moment where you just know the band is about to explode back into volume with an assault of ringing guitars and pounding toms. Only, it doesn’t happen. Instead, the song drifts into ambiance, with softly clattering -- and programmed -- percussion melting into reverb-laden clean guitars and completely fluid bass tones. Yes, the band gets to the climax later on, the final minute of the track making good use of distortion and an abused snare drum. But it’s that unexpected bridge that gives listeners the best point of entry into the way Explosions in the Sky has decided to continue the slow alteration of its formula, begun on 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and moved into further fruition here on this new record.
Fans who loved the Austin group’s shock-and-awe tactics of their debut, 2001's Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, must have by now grown accustomed to a growing sense of disappointment. Each subsequent Explosions album has dealt less and less in the business of that record’s loud-soft, slow-burn-to-dizzying-climax songwriting. The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003) had some of it, particularly in “The Only Moment We Were Alone”, possibly the band’s greatest accomplishment and certainly the moment where they perfected their original formula. But then things got tricky for the group. You can’t blame them -- they wrote the book on 2000s post-rock (apologies to Mogwai and Godspeed), and what author wants to churn out the same story, over and over again, ad nauseam? All of a Sudden was the sound of a band treading water. Sure they wanted to swim ahead, but they were not yet convinced how to do it. Take Care sees them approaching the shore.
They’ve introduced some new elements into the game: those synthetic drums, real live hand claps, and -- calm down, they’re not actually saying any words -- vocals. Crucially, they don’t go overboard with this experimentation. These tools are all secondary, almost background noise in the band’s rich patchwork of sounds. For example, the vocals that crop up on “Trembling Hands” are looped and reverbed thoroughly enough to become less sing-song than percussive, just another anthemic ingredient in a track full of them. In other words, we’re dealing with a confident band. They know they need to keep changing in order to keep their audience and themselves interested, but they’re also convinced enough of their talent not to panic and overshoot the mark.
That’s an especially good thing when we’re talking about the unobtrusive moments of electronic drumming. Drummer Chris Hrasky has been the band’s sharpest weapon since day one (The Rescue joke, anyone?). No doubt, his band mates lace their guitars together like expert weavers, displaying an innate understanding of emotional, cinematic pacing more profound than 99 out of a 100 directors in Hollywood. (There’s a reason why the band’s music was chosen for the best network television program of the decade. Texas, forever.) But it’s Hrasky that brings their compositions to the next level, his instantly recognizable style -- military marching snare, steady bass kicks, a quickness on his toms and cymbals that could convince you he has four arms -- adding the muscle that’s needed to turn Explosions’ songs into heavyweights. He’s on point on Take Care, bringing thunder when necessary on “Last Known Surroundings” and “Postcard from 1952” and receding into the background when songs like “Be Comfortable, Creature” and “Human Qualities” need to breathe.
Still, despite Hrasky and his band’s best efforts, it’s hard not to miss the sheer thrills of the band’s first two albums. One almost wishes they’d push things all the way to the other side of the spectrum and make a truly ambient album, submitting fully to their gift for fragile melody. But Take Care, Take Care, Take Care would be an accomplishment for any band, and it’s an accomplishment for Explosions in the Sky, a group that’s been giving some of the best live shows and writing some of the best music around for over a decade now. Send Take Care on a spin and let its grandeur make you feel like a movie star for an hour or so.