For most bands, a nearly great album would be a victory. But Explosions in the Sky isn't most bands.
All of a sudden. No, always, it seems. Since 2000, at least, as far back as the recorded history of Explosions in the Sky. They have been exploding, all this time, against the larger, looming implosion. Their music is anthemic, yes. It is glorious, too. But it is also lonely, a loneliness as vast as the Lone Star State, their home. How could this music not feel a world apart from all the other musics of Texas? This ain't no country, this ain't no tejano, this ain't no foolin' around. This is a band of serious seers, wanting their message to be heard. But that sky above Texas dirt is so remorselessly plentiful, boundless in its cloaking arc, would a few tiny explosions even be heard?
Thankfully, yes. In 2003, Explosions in the Sky were a shot heard 'round the world. Even if the ears receiving the shockwaves were but a relatively small number, the thunderous beauty of The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place was captivating. The reverberations spilled through our hearts and limbs and out into words. The critics loved it, the bloggers loved it, the lovers of post-rock loved it like a new messiah, come to reassure them of the presence of a god beyond Godspeed. We dug up the quartet's only other release available at the time, 2001's Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever. It, too, was great. The twin guitars of Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani chimed and scraped and soared, while bassist Michael James and drummer Christopher Hrasky were the magmatic rhythm section, flowing hot underneath or blowing the lid off a mountain of sound. In 2005, we were treated to two curios: the re-release of EitS's rare, CD-R 2000 debut, How Strange, Innocence and the really quite bountiful EP, The Rescue, a collection of eight "Day"s, each one an interlude, it seemed. A set of lovely little ideas.
The half-dozen tracks on All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone are not little, mostly not lovely, and generally more than mere ideas. The album is the band's fourth full-length and their true follow-up to the momentous Earth CD. In the interim, the ringing from that initial blast of mortar has subsided. Other bands, Red Sparowes and Do Make Say Think and Gregor Samsa and still more, have tided us over, maybe even dulled the luster of this whole post-rock phenomenon, this instrumental rock scene. Because, even though All of a Sudden possesses the many moments of majesty and statements of restraint we expect from an Explosions in the Sky album, there is some element missing here. Is it as simple as a lack of melodic hooks? I don't think we turn towards a band like EitS looking for catchy tunes, but with certain of the group's works, the themes prove more sticky than with others. The opening track, "The Birth and Death of the Day", is everything you want from the band: the lurking shadows, the bursting breath of breaking light. And a great hook! Not so of its successor, "Welcome, Ghosts". This is the song offered as a free download, meant to enthrall you, compelling your purchase of the album. Instead, you'll know you've heard better. "What Do You Go Home To?" rides along on pretty piano arpeggios, but the music has no movement to it, only loops that seem hesitant to unspool into deeper ideas. "Catastrophe and the Cure", though, surges with the lifeblood of the band's earlier albums, the instruments running in formation, reaching for such great heights, nearly achieving, then doubting and cowering and testing their faith before rising again, renewed.
If this sounds like a religious experience, then you now know why we give ourselves to Explosions in the Sky and what we expect in return. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone brings the rapture at times. Maybe, even, it does so enough. But "enough" isn't quite sufficient. For most bands, a nearly great album would be a victory. But these guys aren't most bands. The disc closes with a sweet farewell in "So Long, Lonesome". Yet its sublimity and sense of reprieve ring false. I doubt the group's days of missing everyone are gone. It is this envelope of emptiness that Explosions in the Sky are destined to rally against, always questing for a peace and beauty that are just beyond the outstretched surge of their songs. Next time, may they dig a little deeper, struggle that much more, put off resting for one more day. The dark skies are hanging all around us, waiting to explode.