Just over a month ago, Explosions in the Sky released the music video for "Postcard From 1952" — the closest a seven-minute instrumental rock tune can get to a single — from their 2011 album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The song is textbook Explosions in the Sky: a guitar-forward epic that creseendoes to booming consequence. It's the kind of song that demands to be played as loud as your stereo can handle.
But the video? The video manages to say everything you need to know about Explosions in the Sky without actually featuring the band. Opening on a slow-motion bubble blown at a toddler by her mother, the video lets a handful of vintage photographs unfold into miniature vignettes. A toddler idly taps a piano key, two boys fight over a kaleidoscope, children play in sprinklers. Co-directors Annie Gunn and Peter Simonite (the latter of whom worked as a second-unit cinematographer on The Tree of Life, and it shows) take the viewer through the lives of two kids via the smallest snapshot memories. It's sweet and sentimental — not to mention gorgeously shot — without tumbling over into saccharine.
It almost seems too dismissive to call "Postcard From 1952" a "music video," even though that's exactly what it is. But that's the tricky thing with Explosions in the Sky: The language we have to describe their music (and their music videos, of which there are exactly three, all from their most recent record) never seems adequate enough. Take "post-rock," for instance. That genre may not be the most meaningless two words in music — the reigning champion is "indie rock," followed closely by "witch house" — but they're still pretty damn meaningless.
"I think for a time, we probably rejected [being called post-rock]," Explosions in the Sky bassist Michael James tells the Scene during a break in the band's tour. "After a while, I think we sort of came to accept that nobody's denigrating you by calling you a post-rock band, it's just a very easy reference. That's all it is."
Which is true. Post-rock bands tend to share exactly two things in common: Their songs clock in at eight minutes or longer and any singing is frequently reduced to droning Gregorian chants or, in the case of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, vaguely anarchist monologues. Whatever post-rock may have meant at its inception in the 1980s and early 1990s with bands like Tortoise and Stereolab, it's now become indie-snob speak for "instrumental music that's too heavy for Kenny G but not satanic enough for black metal."
But such a vaguely defined genre puts bands like Explosions in the Sky in the awkward position of being compared to contemporaries that they may sound nothing like. Technically speaking, Sigur Rós — an orchestral rock band with a made-up language — is post-rock. The aforementioned Godspeed You! Black Emperor is post-rock. Even glitchy electro-rock bands like 65daysofstatic are lumped into the gaping void of the genre. And that sort of sweeping generalization makes a band's need to distinguish itself critical.
For their part, Explosions in the Sky have distinguished themselves not as a post-rock band, but as a cinematic rock band. Not just because of their contributions to that great football movie that turned into an even greater television series (Friday Night Lights surely helped, though), but because their manner of writing songs has always leaned hard toward storytelling.
"Trying to construct albums for us has always very much been putting together a narrative," James explains. "Once Friday Night Lights happened, then I think people started to associate us much more with a sort of cinematic quality. Which is great. I think we've always kinda straddled that line a little bit between background music and foreground music."
And that's the key to understanding Explosions in the Sky. Records like The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place and Take Care, Take Care, Take Care are meant to exist as the score to a movie only you can see. These records may not be as intricately orchestrated as the latest by A Silver Mt. Zion (or whatever they're calling themselves these days), but they're immersive the way you would expect from Gavin Greenaway, if someone snuck him a distortion pedal in the middle of scoring The Thin Red Line.
But if not "post-rock," what exactly should you call Explosions in the Sky?
"We've decided that we like the term 'expeditionary rock,' " James suggests. "I do like that, actually. It's music that takes you on a trip."
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