13 Feb Music Recommendation: The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place
It’s difficult distinguishing one Explosions in the Sky song from another. Whether it’s the way the songs of each individual record are seemingly stitched together, or the fact that there are no words to associate with song titles, the most common flack Explosions receives from its critics is that all of their records sound the same. Now, those people knocking the band for this do have a point. The 4 piece, instrumentally focused post-rock outfit sticks to the basics, and to what made them the band they are today (ambient guitars, loud/soft dynamics, military-ecs snare drum work); however, the lack of diversity complaint has a direct correlation with a lack of subsequent listens. As an avid listener of Explosions in the Sky’s output, I do see where the people saying, “it all sounds the same” are coming from. At times, I too struggle with which song is which, and what record they each came from, but that never diminishes the listening experience for me. Each record sort of tells its own story, and in being so ambiguous as an instrumental band, the meaning and emotions behind each album are relative.
I don’t believe Explosions is designed to be listened to in the form of a shuffle. In fact, I tend to listen to their records from start to finish, to score my everyday life (e.g. driving to work, walking through town, running on the treadmill). There is something about the vastness of their sound that romanticized the inner workings of everyday life in a good way, making things less mundane and a bit more epic. They had been tapped by several television programs, commercials, video games, and movies to provide music for the given projects; and Explosions is the primary artist behind the music for the TV and film adaptations of Friday Night Lights. The way Explosions in the Sky structure and arrange their songs is truly unique and inspiring. Each song is dynamic in its own right with incredible use of crescendos and ambiance. They are each built like a cathartic symphony, rather than like a generic post-rock song.
My favorite release from the band thus far is their 2003 album, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. Explosions in the Sky does an unbelievable job of evoking emotion in every song they write despite the absence of lyrics. Unlike some of their other records, like All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone for example, Explosions displays more of a positive tone with the title of this record, and I think that sonically, the songs on it follow suit. There is less of an introspective loneliness in me when I listen to this album, and in it’s place, a triumphant surge of hope.
The record begins with a singular, echoing guitar note as if you are fading into consciousness on a hospital bed. The aptly named first track is called “First Breath After Coma.” A second guitar comes in after a few measures and the two work in unison to create the melody of song. The relentless snare drum notes carry the song though it’s peaks and valleys, using well placed tomb fills and ringing cymbals along the way. The noisy, feedback-driven ending fades while simultaneously flowing directly into the next song, “The Only Moment We Were Alone” without a hitch. It is another quiet start, but with a brand new melody. This time, the song relies on steady bass drum and cymbal work during the song’s initial build; then moves to some fuller, even more chaotic sounding drum grooves. Explosions follows a similar pattern on the following song “Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean,” but abruptly goes quiet in the very middle of the track. No sound remains except a few aquatic guitar tones as the record heads toward another climax before going into the saddest sounding song on the record, “Memorial.” “Memorial” has the most hectic ending by far, and works really well as a precursor to the most well known Explosions song, “Your Hand In Mine.” In my opinion, this song has some of the most beautiful melodies and tight drumming not only on the record, but in Explosion’s entire catalog. Inherently hopefully, utterly blissful, and FUCKING EPIC; it’s one of my very favorite songs to this day.
The five songs span over a course of about 45 minutes and flow like a storyline. There is definitely a plot here. Whether Explosions in the Sky intended for The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place to be a concept record, I’m not positive; but it sure as shit feels like one. The record is constructed more like a musical narrative as opposed to just another instrumental album. Every song has suspense, action, and a climax, just like every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Throughout the course of a record, Explosions in the Sky take you through a range of emotions that you, and only you, can feel. There are no lyrics suggesting hope, no vocals to convey anger or depression, there are only instrumentation and textures that feel different from person to person. You’re gonna have to see what you get out of it on your own.