Thursday, January 5, 2012

Explosions In The Sky - How Strange, Innocence (2000)

Explosions In The Sky is a post-rock band more or less in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Post-rock is my favorite contemporary genre, as it marries the instrumentation of orchestral music with the rough energy of rock n roll, often producing hauntingly beautiful soundscapes (with minimal, if any, lyrics) that could easily provide the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic landscape (as was the case when one of Godspeed's songs was begrudgingly allowed to be used in the soundtrack to zombie apocalypse movie 28 Days Later - the moment I became a post-rock fan).

The aptly titled How Strange, Innocence is effectively Explosions In The Sky's demo tape, recorded before their first large-scale album release, and later re-released due to fan demand. It is not quite as smooth or polished as the other Explosions album I own, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, recorded a few years later. However, the rough nature of these tracks seems to lend itself to emphasizing the dynamic range of these songs - in essence, the transition between quieter and louder sections of music that is my favorite staple of the post-rock formula. Sometimes these transitions are rapid, even unexpected, and sometimes they are very gradual (which is more often the case with Explosions' music). From this album, the song Time Stops best encapsulates the sort of build and grandeur that I associate with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which is in my opinion the best post-rock band.

Another thing about instrumental music that I find so fascinating is that the mood of the piece is determined more by the sound (and harmony) of the instruments, than the lyrics the vocalist is singing (as is often the case in pop music). A lot of times, the mood of a piece matches the lyrics - i.e., a song about heartbreak will be either angry or melancholy depending on the singer's mood. Other times, you have songs whose mood seems poorly matched to the lyrics (and sometimes, even, the lyrics don't make much sense and leave you guessing), which could either work in the song's favor, or to its detriment, depending on what sort of effect the artist is going for. But with instrumental music, it's all about creating moods and feelings without resorting to words. How do you make someone feel sad, or happy, or anxious, or calm, or frightened, without telling them that's how they should be feeling?

I think it's a fascinating question, one that I've struggled with myself as a musician, and something that a post-rock band has to be able to accomplish in order to be any good. On a related note, I love the freedom of coming up with curious song titles for instrumental tracks. Songs with names like Glittering Blackness and Remember Me As A Time Of Day (and countless excellent examples from other albums and other post-rock bands) inevitably and intentionally set the scene for an instrumental passage to play out in, and also give a short glimpse into the mind of the artists who created that passage, what they were thinking, and what they feel the passage means to them. It's very much like abstract impressionism. And I admire that open-endedness of interpretation, especially set against a title that, unlike "Love Song No. 9" or something of the sort, gets you thinking before the music even begins.

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