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Monday, May 9, 2016

Explosions in the Sky Casts a Constellation Over the Fox Theater on Saturday Night

Posted By on Mon, May 9, 2016 at 11:45 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO: ZACK RUSKIN
  • Photo: Zack Ruskin

At 8:00 am on Saturday morning, I woke up in a sleeping bag in Wawona Campground in Yosemite Valley. The standard hazards of camping had taken their toll: a sunburn unfairly inflicted by an overcast day, soggy soles in the back-up shoes packed just in case the first pair – also soaked – got wet, and an aching desire to hear the flush of a toilet. I was haggard and bedraggled, but I also had somewhere to be. At 9:00 pm that evening, I was leaning against a balcony at Oakland’s Fox Theater, a smudge of campfire ash still lining my left ear, taking in the majesty of Explosions in the Sky.

I often speak of desert island records: the albums that I'd choose to bring along with me and simply couldn't live without were I stranded somewhere remote. Perhaps another way to view the question is through this new advent of the Yosemite challenge: what bands are you willing to travel from a campground far away to see, even if it means skipping the shower of which you’ve been dreaming, speeding hundreds of miles on the strength of campfire coffee, and standing half-dazed, a world away, when the lights finally go down?

One such act is Explosions in the Sky.

The Texas post-rockers may not have any lyrics in their discography, but boy do they tell a story. Taking their cues from the orchestral maestros of yore, Explosions crafts instrumental narrative arcs from guitar crescendos that traverse a wide terrain of emotional peaks and valleys.

The Wilderness is the band’s latest record and their first studio offering since 2009’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. It’s good to have them back. Guitarists Michael James, Munaf Rayani, and Mark Smith, along with drummer Chris Hrasky, have once again created a collection of remarkable, visceral music that paces for climax and crashes in waves of cathartic ebullience.

Many have rightfully noted how Explosions’ sound translates so naturally to film, and in the time since their last album, they’ve taken the suggestion to heart, providing the scores to Prince Avalanche and Lone Survivor. Neither effort ranks among the band’s best work, but perhaps this was less their failing than proof that there simply isn’t a visual accompaniment that does justice to the music of Explosions in the Sky.

Saturday night at The Fox, it was five men, four guitars, a splash of hazy rainbow lights, and a sold-out crowd enraptured with the spectacle of hearing the heavens. The structure of Explosions’ songs, with studio versions regularly exceeding eight minutes in length, left fans unsure precisely when to applaud as scattered claps filled in the intentional quiet that bridges the movements of tracks like “Disintegration Anxiety” and “The Birth and Death of the Day.”

A limited-edition print created especially for the show featured a Keith Haring-like figure, torch in hand, making his way down an impossibly steep staircase and into the unrevealed world below. The ether beyond the frames of that poster is in a way the same unknown place for which Explosions composes: a space for feelings that mount in ratcheted tension until finally they rush forth to consume you.

click image Print designed by Dan Grzeca. - COURTEY OF DAN GRZECA
  • Courtey of Dan Grzeca
  • Print designed by Dan Grzeca.

Writing about post-rock, a nebulous term that relegates the pioneers of its genre into an often ill-fitting label, is actually quite similar to one’s attempts to describe the beauty of Yosemite. How do we verbalize starry skies, sparkling lakes, and granite domes in precisely the words they deserve? Explosions in the Sky is like a national park of music, various landscapes of stunning beauty unified by the good they do your soul.

The band played roughly 90 minutes before leaving the stage. There was to be no encore; Explosions has always been a group that gives it all they have the first time. As the lights went up and the crowd dispersed into the night, they left with notes of wonder ringing in their ears. And I left seeking a shower. 

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About The Author

Zack Ruskin

Zack Ruskin

Zack was born in San Francisco and never found a reason to leave. He has written for Consequence of Sound, The Believer, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is still in search of a Bort license plate.

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