Explosions In The Sky- All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone

Explosions In The Sky – All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone (Temporary Residence, released on 2/20/07)

Note to self: instrumentation is very important. If you can’t play your instrument very well, you probably have a sucky band.
Note to EITS: you all play your respective instruments very well, and you do not have a sucky band. It’s pretty tough to review an instrumental album, like how does an artist choose either their canvases or clay or whatever their respective medium allows for? In this review, I prefer to paint a landscape with words because All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone paints a landscape with sounds. Using words to describe music is a terrible injustice, but then again, so is using words to describe anything that exhibits artisitc or creative skill. That being said, I just basically called myself a fraud- I’m living a lie by wanting to write about music.

But Explosions’ latest endeavor negates my self-loathing and brings me back to why I love this brand of instrumental post-rock (see also: Mogwai, Gospeed! You Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Pelican). Starting the album off with a dissonant drone, it settles into a piercing (and always theatric) heart-shaped guitar line that only Explosions In The Sky can get away with and not be guilty of being too ostentatious. It’s a simultaneous attack of ferocious emotion and raw power and moments later a refined sincerity and collective restraint. Drawing you in with both soft bass and light drum play, building to a release with a burst of blinding energy, then coming at you from way over head with those high-pitched squeals of unbridled guitar-driven passion, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this band is the most capable and the heir apparent to the genre’s throne.

Lacking what 2003’s The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place had, which in my opinion is their masterpeice, All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone makes up for their last effort, 2005’s The Rescue by returning some of that lost urgency. Beautiful in its own right, The Rescue seems as if it’s a throw-away record because of its rootless foudations- just four guys jamming in a room over the course of 8 days. I like the concept, but it lacks focus. All Of A Sudden… has that focus, and maybe it’s a good album because they needed to get The Rescue out of their system. Some bands’ best work comes from that same unrestricted, hands-off type of jamming, you know who I’m talking about right here.

Not a jam band by any stretch of the imagination, album after album Explosions In The Sky sets out to create lovely music sans lyrics by enveloping you in the imagery of their world of bursting clouds, dying supernovas, crashing waves, gently rising suns, melting lava flows and the lost days of youth; those long summer days when you played and played and the sun didn’t set until almost nine o’clock, when we had to finally go in for our nightly baths. This is music to read to, to write to, to paint to, to draw to, to fall in love to, to watch those sunsets to- all in hopes of capturing what you lost before you donned a cap and gown and took that crappy 9-to-5.

All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

The Shins – Wincing The Night Away

The Shins- Wincing The Night Away
(SubPop, release date 1/23/07)

Going in a new direction sometimes will get you lost. The Shins‘ new album sets out in this “new” direction but manages to still embody all the elements that make The Shins, well, The Shins. Basically, what I mean is this: it’s new without being too new. Make sense? I didn’t think it would, but here’s the gist- while many bands try to eschew their old sound by completely overhauling it, Wincing The Night Away presents a fuller, more self-realized sound without abandoning the New Slang slash Pink Bullets sound we’ve come to know and love.

There’s a little bit more distortion and feedback on here, used wisely, but still using that tambourine-snare combo that gives it a sixties-cum-modern folk feel, emblematic of their sound. Every song is rather good, which probably made it extremely hard for the band and the label to pick Phantom Limb as the single. My pick would’ve been Sea Legs, starting with a hip-hop beat and finishing with an amazing “jam” that lasts a few minutes, fading out beautifully. Split Needles is also an amazing track, with its soaring vocals and melodies, fuzz toned guitars, stop/start drum beat, and sampled synth lines.

Written over the last year and partially recorded in his basement studio, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist James Mercer got married, battled insomnia and struggled with some personal issues. So lyrically, it’s introspective, nostalgic and sentimental, but at the same time very forward-thinking. This will undoubtedly be on many critics year-end lists.

Look for it near the top of mine…

Wincing the Night Away

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
(Polyvinyl, release date 1/23/07)

Dear Athens, Georgia, what the hell is in your water supply? And how much has Of Montreal been drinking? Psychedelia never sounded so good. Think the Beach BoysPet Sounds crossed with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Except where BJM‘s Anton Newcombe fails, Of Montreal‘s Kevin Barnes succeeds, and succeeds with flair. Thinking backwards and borrowing from the past just as much as it thinks ahead and re-invents itself, Hissing Fauna‘s lo-fi psych-chamber folk-pop dizzily spins you in place while taking you to the far reaches of the cosmos and back again, all in the span of 51 minutes.

Suffer For Fashion, the first track on the album, starts off with a child’s singing and turns itself towards a dancy little number, with a perfect segue into some Beatle-esque la-la-la’s to start the next track, Sink The Seine. A few tracks later, Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse, beckons the chemicals to come on and do their thing. If I can sum the album up in one line borrowed from the record itself, it’s “we want our film to be beautiful, not realistic” and Hissing Fauna achieves this maxim. The funk of Faberge Falls For Shuggie hearkens back to some Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys crossed with some smooth Steely Dan-ish elevator soul, making for a weird, if not infinitely interesting listen.

So, it appears that Of Montreal is here to stay, and I thank the music gods in earnest. The effect that 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic had on me, and what 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins helped to further cement in my mind is more than merely replicated on Hissing Fauna, it’s like the last in a trilogy that completes the circuit and gives new meaning to their entire body of work. Concept albums are one thing, but conceptual continuity is a whole ‘nother thing, and Of Montreal is heading down a road that few others have, so mentioning them in the same sentence as Frank Zappa and King Crimson, two other bands that come to mind when thinking about continuing a concept over several years/albums worth of work, may be a heady concession, but I can wait and hope that’s where they’re going…

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?