Explosions in The Sky - The Wilderness

Released April 1, 2016

Brendan Tuytel

There’s a beauty in the unspoken; a subliminal contact, communication in tone. It speaks to the human quality of empathy, picking up on emotion and feeling through sound without phonetic structure. The marvel of a good composition is how it works together with the individual to craft unique experiences predicated on the qualities of importance at the time; a song of dying love transforms into the fluttering of a flattered heart. No band better communicates in the peripheral, operating between the lines, than Explosions in the Sky. While lyrics give music a sense of direction, their instrumental orchestration is an ambiguous intensity, universally applicable.

The first song of The Wilderness feels unfamiliar, not just with the listener, but with itself. The title evokes feelings of nature, but the cover focuses on geometry – calculated shapes overlapping organic images and shades. It’s a contrast the album revels in. Electronic, glitchy beats are a basis on which the band superimposes their signature sound. The raw drive of previous climaxes are secondary to a more technical proficiency as guitar parts are more staggered, feeling incongruent. It was the synergy of those parts that elevated Explosions in the Sky to heights above your average post rock. While everything feels carefully placed and constructed, it’s difficult to appreciate them when they feel that way, devoid of the lauded letting loose.

There are moments where the band successfully melds their conjunction of talents. Melodies soar in synchronicity, reaching new heights by way of how the parts gel. Songs like Disintegration Anxiety and Infinite Orbit are strong, but far too short and offer too little payoff. Meanwhile, Wilderness and Logic of a Dream feel like they’re building towards something, but it just never happens. There’s a constant recursion to something more organized, with very calculated breakdowns and patterns. This is extremely noticeable when the parts just don’t connect, most evident on the seven-minute Colors in Space, a track that at times feels laden with lethargy.

There is an album to be appreciated here, if only as a challenge to the status quo. It’s meditative and meticulous, clean cut and crimped; possessing a simple complexity, basic building blocks are made unique through variation. While previously relying on guitars and drums, there’s more experimentation in what’s being used. Cinematic sounds give songs a sense of significance even when they unravel into an unsatisfying conclusion. But while these qualities make for an intriguing experience, riveting for its robotic revelry, they hinder the band in executing what they’ve excelled at.

In an ironic twist, The Wilderness suffers from being overly technical and technological. While impressive in segments, it’s a claustrophobic whole with too little grandiosity in too few parts. What was so special was the band’s ability to craft something beyond a narrative, it was your narrative; this album is restrictive and recursive.  It feels wrong to evaluate it based on what the band has done in the past, but it’s so far removed from the intensity of their past efforts. There’s no moment to latch on to, no part to impose our humanity. It’s calculated to a fault, devoid of chameleon catharsis. As an idea, The Wilderness is something special, but the execution failed to harmonize the two juxtaposing ideas in a cohesive way.