Texans Explosions In The Sky have gradually built up a huge cult following with their cinematic, atmospheric post-rock. Theirs is an instantly recognisable sound, the chiming guitars, simplistic melodies and gradual build-ups culminating in crashing, earth-shattering noise. For many fans of instrumental rock, they are the less discordant, slightly watered down, more easy listening Mogwai it’s cool to like.
Early whispers from the band about this new record suggested a change of emphasis in their sound. Their website claimed the new songs “feel different than anything else we’ve done before” and suggested the band may be about to take a different path with their music. Alas, as opener ‘Last Known Surroundings’ winds its way through numerous crescendos and contrasting, delicate melody, it becomes clear this album won’t be the volte-face the band had hinted at.
However, there are great moments littered throughout this record. ‘Human Qualities’ is an ingeniously structured epic, which is reduced to little more than the sound of a mournful moan (one of the few instances of vocal work on the record) before shifting gently through the gears to an urgent, powerful coda. Lead-off track ‘Trembling Hands’ is by far the most direct tune the band have ever done, lasting just 3 minutes and being pushed along on a wave of stuttering vocal samples. It shows in stunning clarity what the band are capable of in short bursts, that for all their prog-influenced hugeness they are capable of brevity and directness.
Their more recent albums have been more about atmosphere than melody, and the majority of this album sticks to that template during its lengthier tunes. ‘Postcard From 1952’ opens up beautifully in its second half, a crystal clear guitar line driven along by an easy, loose drum groove. It is in these moments that Explosions In The Sky reveal their best qualities, and it leaves you feeling this record could be a possible turning point – do they continue to craft big atmospherics or go straight for the heartstrings with the memorable tunes they are so readily capable of? Their next record will give more answers to that question than this one does.