The problem with lyrics is that as much as they can provoke and inspire, they also dictate the terms of the musical experience. So, the absence of words can come as a welcome relief. It’s nice to have a little “me time” with one’s music on occasion. The downside being that, with a few notable exceptions, instrumental rock has historically been a pretty anemic affair. Beyond some cool surf music and Lou Reed’s beautifully antagonistic Metal Machine Music, there has been a whole lot of undulating robotic dance music and something called ambient, which sounds like how an exotic fish tank looks. But in the past few years, there has been a welcome emergence of innovative instrumental sounds, most of it falling under the loosely defined moniker of “post rock.”
The newest offering from popular Austin-based “post rock” band Explosions in the Sky is a slight tweak on the emotive guitar sound that has them packing theaters and selling records across the globe. Six songs make up All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone; each of them structured more like an abbreviated symphony than a conventional rock song. It’s a formula that, after four albums, has earned the band an increasingly fervent following of art-school types, adventuresome emo kids and even a smattering of high school football players.
You may have heard of Explosions in the Sky without knowing it. Several years back, the band was fortuitously plucked from a life of endless van tours and low-budget recording sessions, flown to Hollywood and asked to score the big-budget Hollywood adaptation of the book Friday Night Lights, an unsparing true-life account of a West Texas town’s obsession with high school football. The movie was better than most such endeavors, due in no small part to the band’s unorthodox and emotional soundtrack, which elevated the film to something bordering on art.
But it is the band’s fiery live shows that have attracted an ever-expanding fan base since their inception in 1999. An early performance at a party landed a tour with fellow Austin band And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and a crudely recorded live performance got them a record deal with indie label Temporary Residence. This latest record is a slightly heavier affair than previous recordings, perhaps an attempt to match the cathartic intensity of their live shows.
It is actually their second stab at it. Last summer, the band recorded an entire album’s worth of material, only to trash it after judging the songs serviceable but unremarkable. And this time they seem to have expanded their pallet; the guitar sounds are more varied, and two of the songs — “What Do You Go Home To?” and “So Long, Lonesome” — feature prominent piano parts. Where before the drums were used primarily for accent, they are now pushed into the forefront and played harder, at times resembling something close to heavy-metal pounding. The heavier beats infuse the still contemplative melodies with a welcome bit of urgency. A barrage of crisp fills and crashing cymbals propels “Welcome Ghosts,” while “Catastrophe and the Cure” seems slightly reminiscent of Brian Eno–era U2 freed from Bono’s lyrical theatrics.
Like many entirely instrumental records, this one can occasionally sound like one continuous albeit fascinating and moving song. Nevertheless, it makes an ideal companion for a long drive or a bout of romantic turbulence. The record won’t tell you how to feel, like some of your favorite singers might, but chances are it’ll provide a stirring soundtrack to however you are feeling.
EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY | All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone | Temporary Residence