Explosions in the Sky
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
(Temporary Residence; 2011)
By Calum Marsh | 6 June 2011
What are we supposed to make of a band like Explosions in the Sky, whose new studio album—their sixth in just over eleven years—is entirely indistinguishable from each of the five albums which precede it, but which as a result of that similarity is thus roughly as good, song for song, as each of those records sounded at the time of their release? Because if it’s difficult to fault the band for continuing to churn out full-bodied and immaculately produced (if overwhelming samey) post-rock, as they have been for well over a decade now, so too is it difficult to laud them for it. And so I’m not exactly sure how I’m to account, critically, for the fact that the most insurmountable problem I have with Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is not one specific to its songs but to the position the album takes within what is by this point a quite impressive back-catalog of EITS albums. Which is to say that while I derive just as much pleasure out of listening to Take Care as I do listening to any of their earlier records, calling it a great album in the same way that I might call, say, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever (2001) a great album somehow doesn’t seem justifiable, even though they are, for the most part, aesthetically identical records.
This puts me in something of an awkward position. Because while I’m not liable to fault the pizza I order for lunch today for being too similar to the pizza I ordered last week, I also recognize at the end of the day that the appeal of a slice of pizza is fairly narrow. That EITS continue to stick to what they know well is fine, I suppose; at this point they do what they do better than just about anybody else. But I find little to commend in stagnancy. It’s not that “the magic’s gone,” or that they’ve somehow lost their touch, but I can’t help but be vaguely disappointed by their stubbornness, even if the music itself sounds good; in fact I’d probably be kinder to a hit-and-miss but drastically different-sounding record by these guys. If we’re chastising upstart indie projects for being derivative of musics past, shouldn’t we be doubly offended by bands derivative of themselves, especially more than a decade into a career?
It might be that a genre which once seemed vital and exciting—at its best a formally extravagant vehicle for surprisingly serious political expression, a strange convergence of punk and arthouse sensibilities that was quintessentially of the early 2000s—now just seems artistically outmoded. EITS prove through simple repetition that the form still thrives, only now it’s been drained of political meaning or import. It’s true that EITS were never as explicitly political as their recently reunited post-rock peers Godspeed You! Black Emperor (whose thematic concerns represent a large part of their music’s lasting significance), but it’s still strange that while the latter imploded, saw a legacy form in their wake, and finally made their unexpected comeback to touring, for the former it’s been a decade-plus of business as usual. To me this career-minded consistency points to an emptiness behind their music’s well-crafted veneer, one that arguably makes them not unlike that samey-but-satisfactory pizza—with each new record they remind us that they’re fine, but, as an single experience stretched out over a decade now, not a whole lot more.
Take Care, like all of the EITS albums, still has quite a lot going for it: its bombastic gestures are still appropriately dramatic, its production still crackles and shines exquisitely, its conventional undulations are still paced for maximum emotional effect. But there is no surprise or wonder to be found here, no chances or risks taken. They write what they know, again. How greatly this impedes your ability to enjoy Take Care depends on your tolerance for overwhelming predictability, or on how badly you want more of the same. If you’re a glutton for comfort, for the kind of reliability you can only attain after six albums of identically good music, Take Care is sure to satisfy. But I don’t think I’ll want this again.