Monday, March 8, 2010

Explosions in the Sky - "Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever" (LP Review)

Imagine The Pixies walking into the studio, finding Black Sabbath's instruments and gear (ca. 1973) and then deciding to cover songs by Tortoise. Or maybe it should be Tortoise covering The Pixies. Either way, Explosions in the Sky triangulates somewhere between these three musical influences, with the additional regional influence of Austin, TX. I'm not sure I can describe the Texas, esp. Austin, sound (it is more of an attitude than a specific genre), but you know it when you hear it.

EITS are Mark Smith (guitar), Munaf Rayani (guitar), Michael James (bass and guitar), and Chris Hrasky (drums). As you can infer from the lineup, they play instrumental (taking their Texas laconism to the point of no vocals), guitar-oriented rock. But even with two, sometimes three, guitarists, don't look for any shredding here: they've completely transcended the conventional rock guitar solo and are firmly within the post-rock genre (hence the comparison with Tortoise). Structurally, it is clear they've also listened to their share of NWOBHM bands with their highly regimented, almost martial/marching band arrangements.

EITS is probably most well known for providing the soundtrack for 2004's "Friday Night Lights". A lot of people when first exposed to EITS find this an odd pairing, assuming that EITS represents the alternative, "too cool for sports" set. I get it though. For one, EITS clearly makes soundtrack-sounding music. Secondly, HS football is such a part of the Texas ethos that to have refused the opportunity when it arrived would have been self-negation. But I'll review that LP at a later date...

"Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever" is their 2001 LP, whose very title invites comparisons to Tortoise's 1996 LP "Millions Now Living Will Never Die". TWTTTSD is technically their second LP, although their 2000 debut "How Strange, Innocence" received very limited release. TWTTTSD gives us six songs and 50 minutes of vast, epic, open, organic instrumental music that works the soft-loud-soft formula to its maximum effect. Noise canceling headphones are the best way to listen to this LP: the quiet bits are so subtle and sweet that you have to really stop and pay attention to what they're doing. You'll be tempted to turn up the volume, but be careful. In a minute or two they're going to explode: a majestic, roaring, aural behemoth. And just after the reverberations have rearranged the objects in your room, EITS will be quiet again. Then you will know how apropos the band's name is and realize that they really could not have been named anything other than Explosions in the Sky.

In a band filled with guitarists (all of whom do an excellent job), I have to say the star of the show is drummer Chris Hrasky. Producer Trevor Kampmann certainly did him a favor and put Hrasky out front in the mix, and he is often playing more of a lead than rest of the band. For example, listen to 1:40--2:25 in "Yasmin the Light", 3:00-5:00 of "Have You Passed Through This Night", or 4:50--5:50 of "A Poor Man's Memory" -- you'll nearly forget the guitarists are playing.

The closest thing they have to lyrics is in "Have You Passed Through This Night" where they sample Private Witt's voice over from the movie "The Thin Red Line" (delivered with an appropriate drawl):
This great evil. Where does it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doin' this? Who's killin' us? Robbing us of life and light. Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?
Unkle would also sample this and other dialogue from "The Thin Red Line" in the song "Eye for An Eye" on their 2003 LP "Never, Never, Land", but EITS did it first as well as better.

There are no bad songs on this LP. An unkind critic could argue that the songs are interchangeable, but it is fair to say that if you like one you'll like them all. "Have You Passed Through This Night" stands out because of the movie sample, but honestly the song boundaries are almost arbitrary as each song consists of several movements and if it were presented as a single 50 minute track I would be hard pressed to cut it into six segments.

Standout songs: all. You can find the LP at Grooveshark, but note that the track listing there currently has a lot of errors. You can find a better listing at lala.

Here are the tracks as sourced from YouTube: "Greet Death", "Yasmin the Light" (live), "The Moon is Down", "Have You Passed Through This Night?", "A Poor Man's Memory", "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10. This is truly a genre-defining LP.

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