Explosions in the Sky

The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place

(Temporary Residence; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 27 October 2003

If the thought of more "post-rock" instantly leaves a bitter taste in your mouth --and it probably does at this point -- who can really blame you? Since the early nineties, late-era releases from Talk Talk & the emergence of Slint as indie gods (who later filtered down to Tortoise) paved the way for the term to refer to a whole slew of experimental and primarily instrumental rock bands like Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Gastr del Sol, Flying Saucer Attack and the Dirty Three (I'm mentioning the more well-known acts here, though the term encapsulates more bands than I would want to cover here). The term would later start popping up to describe bands like Sigur Rós, further blurring the lines of what the genre actually "means" outside of epic structures and, again, a primarily instrumental & experimental aesthetic. It's all still pretty pointless.

That the genre's title has somehow become so easily defined after nearly a decade of being used predominantly as a lazy designation for un-categorical experimental rock speaks volumes for how stagnant its current "form" has become. Even its biggest names --Mogwai, Godspeed, Tortoise, Dirty Three, For Carnation, Flying Saucer Attack, Trans Am --have either disappearing completely or started releasing tired versions of material they've already done much better. Mogwai's new disc was a pleasant surprise, but still seems desperate for ideas and its heights come no where close to those of Come On Die Young or their classic Young Team. Godspeed released their first "bomb" (ok, this is very arguable) last year with Yanqui UXO and Dirty Three's new album is fine, but. . . well, maybe I'd love it more if I didn't keep thinking "this is the same band that made Horse Stories?" Maybe the lack of real development turns most people off from the genre, seemingly running in circles until everyone just stops paying attention.

For the most part, that has happened. By the time Austin's Explosions in the Sky (EITS) released their debut album (the independently released How Strange, Innocence), "post rock" had already started to grow stale again after the temporary shock of Godspeed's first albums and Mogwai's blisteringly loud stage shows had begun to wear off. In 2001, well after most thought loud, melodic instrumental guitar rock had run its course, EITS released the monumental Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, picking up where post-rock's cliché left off and pumped it full of fresh ideas. So, in an act of charity, lets drop the "post rock" shit off right here --its really not the "genre" that has grown stale, it's the proliferation of groups that refused to either a) develop, or b) continue to write stimulating music despite whatever term is attached to them. Calling Yanqui post-rock isn't what makes it so predictably boring. That's all Godspeed's fault. The quicker people realize this, the quicker we can put a stop to condemning complete styles as "dead" or "worthless."

Despite what label you throw at them, EITS released something truly exciting with Those Who Tell the Truth --it was an album that immediately grabbed and kept my attention from the first bombast of "Greet Death" to the entrancing closing moments of "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept." Their new disc, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, takes a slight detour from the relentlessness of Truth and instead puts a focus on hypnotic melodies with intermittent sections of distortion that are still only used to create a wall of sound that encase the repetitive melodies instead of enveloping and determining where the song will go.

In other words, Truth was more of a representation of their stunning live show (which I've been lucky enough to experience), and Earth comes off more as a record made for headphones; the kind of winter album that Do Make Say Think put forth with last year's & Yet & Yet. "First Breath After Coma" (which, like most of these songs, has been played live for several years) and "The Only Moment We Were Alone" open the album with nearly twenty minutes of surprising restraint --which isn't to say the album doesn't build or that it wallows in monotonous rhythms until they finally let shit fly at the end of "Only Moment." "First Breath's" celebratory drumming and trilled, echoing lead guitar lines work just as well without a "payoff," opting instead to deconstruct itself after hinting at the kind of speaker-blowing finale that had started to become all too predictable. The song finally resolves itself in a flurry of white noise that continues to hint at breaking through but slowly fades to the opening section of the second track before any such thing can happen.

"The Only Moment We Were Alone" temporarily bursts out of its uniformly calmative cast for relatively tame (again, compared to their past material) climaxes until the ending finally lets loose and the massive wall-of-sound, not surprisingly, is able to bring the song to euphoric heights. Its climax flows into "Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean," the album's least memorable track. It isn't until the tepid first half winds down into its far superior second half and floats its way to its brief, yet exciting, closing that the song is able to finally take off.

"Memorial" and "Your Hand in Mine" end the album which much more powerful a punch, even if the former wastes nearly three minutes of ultimately pointless noodling before breaking into what is very arguably the album's most affecting sections. Like the entirety of Truth, the song is able to energetically combine several great ideas (their repetitive melodies rarely last long before acting as a segue into another) into an emphatic single piece that is tied seamlessly together as a complete whole. After the unbelievable climax of "Memorial" comes the similarly structured "Hand," which features the best guitar interplay on the record --something they prove just as gripping even without blistering volume to back it up.

Though not the towering accomplishment of Those Who Tell the Truth, its conscious focus on intricate melody & restraint finds the band successfully developing and growing into slightly new ground, even if the difference is mostly one of volume and not style. It would have been nice to see the band explore significantly new areas to secure a future unlike many of their peers that seem detrimentally content in one particular style. Explosions are going to need to pull a few more tricks out of their sleeves to stay as relevant and exciting in the future, but for now it's their impressive skill as songwriters and crafters of mood that sets this album far apart from its predominantly exhausted brethren. Though come on guys, we all know an EITS metal album would be one of the best things ever. Come on. Don't make me beg.