Posts Tagged ‘Explosions in the Sky’

Explosions in the Sky: Post-rock for the masses

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Post-rock for the masses came to DC last night, as Explosions in the Sky played to a sold-out house at the large 9:30 Club. I am still having a hard time comprehending how these guys have been selling out nearly all their shows, or how their latest album actually, according to their label’s latest newsletter, “debuted on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Charts at a crisp #76 (right between P. Diddy and Jill Scott)!” So bizarre. The crowd at the show was mostly indie-rockers, with a lot of college students mixed in, and it occurred to me that while Explosions‘ upbeat, major-key post-rock is very accessible for folks in general, it’s also perfect hipster date music. Sure enough, there were a bunch of couples at the show.

My friend and I skipped Eluvium, having seen him at the Warehouse Nextdoor a couple years ago in what was one of my worst concert experiences ever — he actually turned me off from staying to see the band I’d come for, Mono. Unfortunately, we arrived in time for the second opening band, The Paper Chase, who had the distinction of being perhaps the worst opening band I’ve seen since Melomane opened for Wilco last year. Aside from a few off-the-wall guitar solos, this was mostly moronic indie-cock-rock, and the only reason these guys were on the bill is because they’re from Texas, as is Explosions. Not a particularly brilliant pairing otherwise.

All was forgiven when Explosions in the Sky started their set at 8:45, the earliest I’ve ever seen a show at one of these indie clubs in DC (and after very little changeover time after The Paper Chase went offstage). It was a beautiful thing. So, at times, was the music: they played their material very close to the vest, without much variation from the studio albums at all, but they were still pretty powerful. The sound in the louder parts wasn’t great, as the interlocking guitars got pretty hard to hear, but overall it was a decent show, though as with many post-rock shows, it had its share of less exciting moments. The setlist was the exact same as the one they played a few days before in Asheville — I have a fantastic recording of that show — so sadly the element of surprise was lost for me. Oddly, they only played about half of the new album, and didn’t play what I feel is easily the centerpiece song from it, the opening “Birth and Death of the Day.” They played a lot of stuff from the popular The earth is not a cold dead place, and even a couple from Those who tell the truth…, which were noticeably more “rocking” than the more recent material.

Not surprisingly at a sold-out show, a big part of the concert experience was the crowd. The club was pretty packed, and most of the crowd didn’t seem to know when the songs ended — the band mostly transitioned seamlessly between songs — and so people were basically applauding every time the group went from loud to soft. That was kind of annoying. More annoying were the testosterone-laden, probably intoxicated, assholes who kept yelling “YEAH!!!” halfway through every soft section. Did they know anything about the show they had come to? I wonder. Anyway, none of this surprised me, nor did it actually annoy me as much as I expected it to, but it was certainly interesting to see how “post-rock for the masses” played out in a live setting to a packed house. The crowd was very enthusiastic in general though, which was nice to see, calling boisterously for an encore that never came (also not surprising, since they didn’t play one at the Asheville show; maybe they just don’t ever do encores on principle for some reason?).

My top ten albums of 2003

Friday, December 3rd, 2004

It’s about that time: my Top Ten of last year (2003, not 2004). It was a pretty good year, but mostly because there were a lot of pretty good albums released. There were none that really blew me away, but I had a hard time narrowing my list down to ten (much less putting it in some kind of order that I’m satisfied with) because there were so many great-but-not-transcendent releases. In any case, here’s my stab at it.

  1. Alamaailman Vasarat - Käärmelautakunta
    While this album didn’t initially strike me as a huge step forward from AV’s debut album, it has steadily grown on me to the point that it’s easily my favorite from 2003. The band mixes moods and tempos to wonderful effect, and really hammers out a unique niche. What other band blends klezmer, metal, jazz, folk, and rock? What other band makes that not only seem natural, but fun?
  2. A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step
    This was a real pleasant surprise. I like this one better than any Tool album - it’s dark, well-paced, heavy when heavy is called for, and very much a unified whole that’s greater than any of its parts. A great alternative rock album (with its fair share of proggy touches) at a time when “alternative” is a synonym for “stale.”
  3. Anti-Pop Consortium - Anti-Pop Consortium Vs. Matthew Shipp
    A more effective meshing of jazz and hip-hop does not yet exist. And it’s just our luck that two of the most cutting-edge artists in either genre chose to work together. The only negative is that this was Anti-Pop’s last recorded output - making it little more than a teasing glance at what could have been.
  4. The Postal Service - Give Up
    Probably the most purely poppy album we’ve reviewed here, but damn is it good. This duo of electronica wizard and emo vocalist has become the indie-rock darling of the moment, achieving success and even a deal with the real U.S. Postal Service. Heart-wrenching melodies and masterful production.
  5. Spring Heel Jack - Live
    Another electronica duo, but of an entirely different stripe; on this album, Spring Heel Jack collaborate with a free-jazz band featuring Matthew Shipp among others. The result is alternately a relaxing ambient soundscape and a monstrous beast on a violent rampage. One of the best - and certainly the most raw - electronica/jazz meshings I’ve yet heard.
  6. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
    With this album, Texas’ premiere post-rock band finds peace. This is a surprisingly upbeat, pleasant, quietly hopeful work that offers the first glimpse at a brand of post-rock that isn’t all doom and gloom. Melodic and enchanting.
  7. Outkast - Speakerboxxx
    The first half of Outkast’s double album is utter brilliance - innovative and fun hip-hop. The second half, The Love Below, is more experimental but far less coherent, to the point of seemingly kind of stiffly stupid at times. But the whole thing is well worth it for Speakerboxxx’s irrepressible energy.
  8. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
    These guys just keep getting better. Probably the loosest and jazziest of the big-name post-rock bands, DMST are close to transcending the genre altogether. Their latest effort is lovely and entrancing, but not afraid to go for the jugular when the time is right.
  9. Sufjan Stevens - Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State
    Perhaps the most purely beautiful album on this list. This album is a heartfelt paean to Stevens’ home state of Michigan and runs the musical gamut from twisted Glassian minimalism to folksy solo banjo strumming, all of it anchored by Stevens’ arresting vocals.
  10. The Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra… - “This is Our Punk Rock”…
    I have been getting skeptical of these guys, especially as Godspeed You Black Emperor! seems to be running in place, but they really came through with this one. It’s still the same melodramatically bleak, gloomy, spacious post-rock as before, but so well done that it can’t be faulted.

So what missed the cut? A bunch of albums that could have been swapped in pretty easily, depending on my mood, for the last few on the list above: Mogwai’s Happy Songs for Happy People, The DecemberistsHer Majesty the Decemberists, Azigza’s Kriya, Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism, Sunn O)))’s White1, the Non-ProphetsHope, Dissection’s Live Legacy, MatmosThe Civil War, Bone Structure by Bendian/Liebig/Gunther/Stinson… the list goes on and on. It was a good year, but again, nothing that really seemed absolutely timeless.

One thing that jumps out at me is how little of my list would be considered “prog” by most folks. I do have a fair amount of albums from 2003 that are prog, but few of them really hit me. I’ve known for a while that my tastes are shifting, but it’s interesting to see it happen so dramatically. Although, interestingly enough, quite a few of my favorite albums from 2004 thus far would fall under the prog category, so who knows.