Album Review: Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

[Temporary Residence; 2011]

With the release of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, post-rock titans Explosions in the Sky are now six albums deep into their career. Unfortunately, it shows. Like many of their peers in the genre (Mogwai immediately comes to mind) Explosions have been suffering from some bad symptoms for awhile now, releasing works that fall anywhere between unchallenging and familiar to absolutely boring. They’re works of a band in their comfort zone, content in continuing on with what works instead of striving to take some chances.

This makes Take Care, Take Care, Take Care all the more frustrating because it’s one of those albums that hints at something more. There are moments all throughout the work, signs, however brief, of a band progressing. A cluster of spectral voices here, an out of place instrumental sample there. It’s the sound of a band taking minor steps forward – amounting to a frustrating tease of what could have been. And as the record takes us through its familiar territory, these moments continue to pop up sporadically, reappearing just as you’ve given up on them. It’s enough to make what should be thrilling nearly have the opposite effect. Every time this album surprises us, it simultaneously reminds us of its squandered potential.

And then there’s “Trembling Hands,” the album’s lead single and one of the strongest songs the band has created in some time. There’s a terrific sense of immediacy to it that we’ve never quite heard from these guys before. Drums take the lead here – building up to a collision of guitars that, for the song’s brevity, feels more mammoth than any of the climaxes the band usually take their time building to. It’s the only thing here that feels like a fully realized step forward, and a good one at that.

To be fair, despite the overwhelming sense of a band treading water, “Trembling Hands” isn’t the record’s sole success. “Last Known Surroundings” is quite the strong opener – both hopeful and melancholy in perfect amounts. And “Let Me Back In,” with its previously mentioned vocal samples and a strong sense of atmosphere, also stands out as something unique. That comes with a caveat – like much of the record, it quickly falls back into familiar territory, spending the rest of its time in a sort of balancing act between the two.

Don’t get me wrong; these guys are good at what they do. Their successes have resulted in them having the honor of being one of the few name brands of the genre. But when past successes are revisited time and time again, it creates the worst kind of position for a band to be in. What was once thrilling becomes stale. And we’re left with albums that aren’t great, nor terrible, just forgettable. Again, in Take Care’s case, there’s an additional layer of disappointment in the album’s tease of change. This is obviously a band that, on some level, is trying to switch things up. But for next time, instead of testing the water, Explosions need to take the plunge.