There was a time, roughly between the release of Sigur Ros’ second album Agaetis Byrjun and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s third, Yanqui U.X.O., that instrumental post-rock ruled the indie world. Not only were there the big names, but it seemed like every individual member of Godspeed had their own project, kicking out similar orchestral epics with slightly different tones. And then, I don’t know, all of the ancillary members of these side projects formed Broken Social Scene and brought pop music back into indie rock. Something like that. It was like Jonsi sneezed and post-rock had abdicated the throne. Now even Sigur Ros makes songs that are under three minutes.
Explosions in the Sky are a post-rock band, but they’re one of the few that have not only outlived that genre’s shining moment, but have thrived outside of it. Sure, their most universally acclaimed album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, was released during the genre’s peak, but the excellent The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, was released almost a year after Yanqui’s lukewarm reception. And the album that garnered them the most national attention, their soundtrack for Texas football movie Friday Night Lights, was released a year after that. Even before Iceland’s most popular non-Bjork musical import crossed over the Atlantic, the Austin-based quartet was releasing How Strange, Innocence on CD-Rs.
It’s been four years since we last heard from Explosions in the Sky, and that record– All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone— was often predictable, a sign that even one of the genre’s stalwarts was running out of steam. If the band’s latest, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, does anything, it’s disavow listeners of that notion. Take Care is the sound of Explosions in the Sky grabbing a hold of the indefinable factor that rates any one of their poignant guitar odysseys over another with a powerful grip.
The biggest problem with the post-rock form, especially over the course of an album, has been how to break out of the crescendo/decresendo mold and not sound as though you’re treading water. Even the juggarnauts of the genre, from Dirty Three to Mogwai, have found themselves floundering over the course of an hour. On Take Care, Explosions in the Sky handle the problem with a remarkable amount of restraint, allowing delicately spindled melodies to do the heavy lifting they used to require a full-on freak out to handle. Listen to album centeripece “Be Comfortable, Creature”, a plaintive and yearning track that never passes the volume of a distant thunderstorm that never quite hits home, and you’ll notice that it’s engaging specifically because of how it avoids becoming a blood-and-thunder rock number.
Of course, the band still knows how to do Freaking Epic, with intentionally capital letters, and better than almost anyone. Opener “Last Known Surroundings” is all classic EITS, from its powerfully sad guitar lines to its cathartic closing. And penultimate track “Postcard From 1952” has probably the most potent build-up to any Explosions song since Michael James was detained at an airport for having “this plane will crash tomorrow” on his guitar. But its in limiting those moments that the band lends them an even stronger potency. By finding intensity even in its quietest moments, Take Care showcases Explosions in the Sky as a band beyond its de facto genre