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Temporary Residence Ltd. / The Orchard, 2001
I must admit it took a long time for me to warm to Explosions in the Sky. A few weeks listening to one genre almost exclusively is bound to distort your perception, but these Texans' brand of apocalyptic instrumental post-rock didn't seem to be original enough at first. The detached and mechanistic feel, those soft backwards guitar touches resonating into the void, those military snare-drum rolls, and above all those crescendos, I thought I'd heard all these before somewhere from a certain Canadian band. But once the number of listens approached double figures, I finally realised I was listening to Explosions in the Sky, not Godspeed You Black Emperor. It's unfortunate for them that there must be very few listeners who heard them before Godspeed or Mogwai, as the comparisons are unavoidable.
They are unarguably working within a genre, but have plenty to say for themselves. Opener "Greet Death" is a great introduction to them, structured in three parts. A tense, quiet intro bursts forth into distorted power chords, an individual take on the brood-explode contrasts familiar from early Mogwai. Secondly there's a few of those guitar touches resonating into the void, which finally transform into a positive, windswept third section, lathered with crash cymbals. It's more relaxed than Godspeed, the world isn't going to end, and it's more spacious and landscaped than the urban claustrophobia of Mogwai.
They've got a lot more than power chords and dusty landscaping. "Yasmin the Light" gives us an elegant, noble melody woven from a web of spangly guitars. This piece has a strangely indecisive aside as it considers whether to be a fat spanking distortion-and-cymbal rocker, but they wisely turn the distortion off for a while, leaving us with some tingling melody. The twittering guitar and restrained interplay of "The Moon Is Down" reminds me of a track from the completely different instrumental medium of electronica (Mum's "Smell Memory"). This interplay is built into an entrancing journey of ten minutes.
At the start of "Have You Passed Through This Night?" the drawling Texan voice saying "this great evil, where is it coming from?" is perhaps too Godspeed-like for my comfort. The insistent martial drumming that accompany the bell-like guitars of "A Poor Man's Memory" is also not far removed from war machines of "Yanqui U.X.O.". But EITS's compositional flair is enough to convince that you're not listening to a mere knock-off. One little moment near the end of this track is particularly special, as a quiet, lingering figure is repeated three times, and then teasingly repeated once more, before a sudden chime and gear-change starts a final breathless ride to the finish line. It's the kind of thing that is all the more thrilling once you have heard it a few times and can anticipate what's coming next.
So if you're interested in exploring this kind of post-rock, but haven't heard any Godspeed, then I'd tell you to check out Explosions in the Sky first. They're in the same league, and you would be a rare prejudice-free listener!
March 18, 2006