Post-rock is one of the easiest musical genres to mock: from its more-than-slightly portentous title, to its ethics of wide-ranging soundscapes and no vocals, to its enigmatic groups with lengthy names. Sigúr Rós can take a lot of credit for the popularisation of the style, their albums indelibly linked to post-rock (albeit with some lyrical content) and full of ideas which ally closely with classical music. Post-rock records generally play out in a similar way to symphonies, each containing movements and recurring motifs – this also means that when post-rock is bad, it’s usually pretty ghastly.
Texan four-piece Explosions in the Sky have long been one of the best and most productive post-rock groups. Their last album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, actually charted in both the UK and USA, a rare feat, and they’ve received a lot more press than many of their compatriots, in part due to the agonisingly perfect score they put together for the fantastic 2004 film Friday Night Lights. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (which will be released later this month) is Explosions’ first album in four years, and it might also be the best record they’ve put out to date.
Take Care may only contain six tracks, but Explosions always provide much to consider in every ‘song’ – if they can be so called – and this sextet certainly offers a lot to enjoy in its 46 minutes. What the band are so good at, which they demonstrate brilliantly here, is the building of tension; their music is a constant catch-and-release of slow builds and triumphant climaxes which makes every song seem like three or four rolled together and bound with the high-register, incredibly clean sounding guitar which has become the band’s hallmark.
The album’s closing track, ‘Let Me Back In’, encapsulates everything that is good about Explosions. Its sparse, downcast intro creates a haunting platform, filled with eerily distorted chanting and a bass-heavy beat; the opening two minutes are as depressing as anything Explosions have yet released. However, as the melodic guitar lines begin to make their mark on the track, the song gets less abstract and more direct. Suddenly, a twin-guitar downward scale cuts through the ambience, instantly transforming the track into a head-nodding epic. Explosions don’t really do ‘choruses’ in the traditional sense, but recurring moments like these make for the most memorable listening.
When the band hits on a good central melody or riff, they’re intelligent with its deployment. Much like a master director makes you wait for a climactic revelation, so too Explosions grab you with a wonderful moment and leave you in anticipation until it comes round again. ‘Postcard from 1952’ employs this tactic to similarly brilliant effect, while the group’s ambient roots shine through on ‘Human Qualities’, the track’s mournful guitar melodies sweeping through a rumbling background like a scythe through a barley field.
The Texans even experiment with something resembling vocals on ‘Trembling Hands’, its thumping beat and repetitive, incantatory vocals reminiscent of the last As Tall As Lions album.
Yet Explosions are always at their best without the distractions of vocals – which on one of their records almost sound gimmicky – and with their sixth album they’ve crafted an intelligent and inspiring sound. Although Take Care never gets to the high point that the incredible ‘Your Hand In Mine’ offers at the end of The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, ‘Let Me Back In’ is very close to matching their very best work.
A welcome return from a wonderful group, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is the kind of record which requires your time and attention to fully appreciate, but which richly rewards you for giving it over.