Popular music is built to be universal and, to this end, often uses a specific format. Using tools such as the verse-chorus-bridge structure and the human voice, pop music is an understandable, accessible art form. By using these strategies, pop music takes a more direct path to listener’s emotions, providing comfort in the familiar. When these elements are removed, however, the artist has a larger gap to bridge to access the psyche of the listener, a challenge post-rock instrumental band Explosions in the Sky has been up against their entire career.
Explosions in the Sky returned in April with their first proper album since 2011, having worked on several film scores during this five-year gap. The album, titled The Wilderness, is notably different from the band’s prior work in its willingness to stay small. Rather than the giant buildup driven by distorted guitars and thunderous drums that the band is known for, much of The Wilderness opts for more subdued grooves instead.
This does not deflate the songs on The Wilderness, but works to give them an understated power. No sound on the record seems wasted or flippant, but rather serves a distinct purpose in pushing the song where it is intended to go.
Along with this economic approach, Explosions in the Sky places a larger emphasis on technology in creating their rhythms and textures than they have in the past, likely a result from their experience in making music for films. These electronic elements work to give The Wilderness an apocalyptic edge. The result is a more mature sound that never relies solely on volume for power.
By forgoing the strategies common to pop music—the human voice, lyrical content, and familiar song structures—Explosions in the Sky taps into something more human with its music. The only way the band is able to connect with the emotions and imaginations of listeners is through the sounds they create. The Wilderness portrays, through music, the human experiences of pain, triumph, anxiety, and relief. It is a reminder that though people are divided by various differences, there is something at the core of humanity that is shared and sacred. (Temporary Residence)