I still think post-rock is a wholly modern genre. The beginnings of most bands with a drum/bass/guitar setup can be traced back at least two decades because most forms of rock ’n’ roll are focused on crafting songs, a goal that hasn't changed much over the years. Alternately, post-rock's focus on eliciting and conveying pure feeling, or a very specific mood, usually sidesteps the trappings of traditional ‘songs,’ and Explosions In The Sky were, and remain, one of this attitude’s purveyors. They present a singular sound, which in the past has expanded and contracted, and at times proven limiting. By stripping the emotional content of their music to a handful of baser emotions, a broader reach is enabled (see Friday Night Lights).
At the same time, that broad reach brings with it the worst aspect of 'emotional' music: the sense that sadness or longing or heartache is being forced out of you. All music tries to elicit some feeling, but only a few genres insist on holding your hand through the maze of emotional connection. In short, the sentiment is way too blatant at times. And that’s not mentioning the endless cycle of crescendos. In a lot of ways, over the last few years I had written off epic post-rock because of Explosions In The Sky, because of that predictability. The first listen, the moment of discovery, was always thrilling, but my emotions tapered shortly after.
Then I heard “Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain” by the extremely likeminded Mono, and I started warming up to epicness again. Are old post-rock bands beginning to reinvent themselves? Well, not really; dissonance is still shied from. But Explosions In The Sky have a new album, and I'm happy to report that it’s really good. I would go as far as to say that it's the band's best, definitive, and most 'together' work, avoiding what made their last few albums slightly lumbering efforts. The percussion crescendos have been largely replaced by a heavy start-and-stop dynamic. Now the drums don't fuck around, they just burst in and cut out as they please, which is an interesting change of pace for a band so focused on builds. The new aesthetic highlights the arrangements themselves, adds drama, and rocks you pretty hard. By the end of the album I was actually craving a 40-minute crescendo.
But Explosions In The Sky, as well as their entire sub-genre, might be past that. A newfound sense of melody is in place: not anything groundbreaking, but an element of catchiness is present. Then there are the lengthened guitar passages appended by shorter musical movements, more focus on texture within a simple instrumental setup, and an overall sense of flow. I think the band has found their voice again, and maybe a new comfort zone. That may seem like a lot of praise, but one major qualm is still intact -- when I mentioned shying away from dissonance? That’s still very much the rule. I don't feel as emotionally manipulated because of the varied arrangements, but a 43-minute barrage of consonance is about as draining as a 43-minute barrage of dissonance. In that regard, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone isn't the band reinventing themselves. Instead, you'll have to settle for Explosions in the Sky perfecting their craft, which is nice to hear regardless of genre.