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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Explosions in the Sky -- Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever


Before I post these five reviews, I need to say something about Explosions in the Sky.
Explosions in the Sky are generally considered by the music scene to be decent, described often with the unfair adjective "twinkly." They are regarded as a good populist, post-rock band (What the heck does that mean? Can't it just be rock? What is going to come after post-rock? Post post-rock?) that aren't artistically deep, while bands like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor are regarded as the artistic front-runners of the genre. Let me tell you this: Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor are great bands with some great albums. Explosions in the Sky are easily on the same level as those two bands.
Explosions receive less artistic attention for two reasons: they aren't weird, and they are accessible. When you think of Explosions in the Sky, you can easily picture the members tossing around a football or shooting some hoops...the fact that they've scored a film about high school football, and been photographed on a basketball court helps my assertion.** Their music is easily associated with the emotions of everyday life, sometimes powerfully so. It is absolutely impossible to not only imagine the members of Sigur Rós or Godspeed You Black Emperor throwing any type of ball correctly and accurately, but to actually see them living a life anything equitable to the ones you and I lead. Sigur Rós can be pictured staring at a glacier from a sheer cliff-side with melancholy expressions or dancing through a field of wildflowers and giggling, and Godspeed can easily be imagined protesting something or other and not taking showers. That's not to say that one can't laminate the emotions of these two bands' music over one's own life. I've done it many times. But these bands can also have a flighty, alienating quality that halts consistent connection. Sigur Rós 1999-2005 period of music-making is awe-inspiring. But when they got bored with their work and turned to acoustic, and then ambient music, they tossed their most powerful qualities away. Likewise, Godspeed going down a rabbit-hole of drone--it serves the artist's purpose, yet neglects the idea that the listener is a part of the work. Meanwhile, the first decade of Explosions in the Sky's career has been incredibly consistent. They haven't made the same album twice, and they've gotten better with each release, but they've never alienated or elevated themselves above the listener. On top of that, they aren't afraid to experiment, but they do it to serve the song, not just to be different or strange. Those who equate weirdness and an impenetrable nature with artistic integrity are missing the point, and while music snobs have been doing that, Explosions in the Sky have been absolutely mastering the instrumental album as literature. Their albums are fully-developed narratives without words, and each one is better than the last. I don't know what more one could want.
Explosions in the Sky began humbly enough, though. Their debut album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever is an excellent listen, but obviously the work of a band still searching for an identity. Because of this, the album is more metaphysical and less cohesive than Explosions in the Sky's following work. The artwork showcases an apocalyptic battle turned by an angel, one side of the album is called "Die" and the other "Live Forever," and John Steinbeck's novel of war and resistance "The Moon Is Down" is name-checked in the title of the album's best track.

All of this doesn't quite come together thematically with the music with the skill that the band's later work does. There are also a few short stretches that are a little uninteresting, but overall, this is still the kind of album one can throw on any time. The spiritual energy that runs throughout all of Explosions in the Sky's work is already flowing here, and the crescendos are just about as good as anyone's. It's hard to believe they are just getting started.

**I realize Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor come from Iceland and Canada, respectively, and those nations play and put a different emphasis on sports than we do in America. So should Explosions in the Sky be punished because they are distinctly American? NO! Also, I don't want to make the connection that a dislike for sports makes one a bad American, simply that football, basketball, and baseball are tied inextricably to our recent national identity. **

2001Temporary Residence Limited
1. Greet Death 7:19
2. Yasmin the Light 7:03
3. The Moon Is Down 10:02
4. Have You Passed Through This Night? 7:19
5. A Poor Man's Memory 6:04
6. With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept 12:04

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