End by Explosions In The SkyRelease date: September 15, 2023
Label: Bella Union
When teasing snippets of information recently started to appear on social media from Explosions In The Sky, fans feared the band were announcing their demise. Thankfully End is just the name of their new album. Lead track ‘Ten Billion People’ that soon followed was so good the expectation levels for the album were high. The Texan band have steadily eschewed their initial blueprint sound through extraneous soundtrack albums, bringing in all sorts of electronics and instrumentation. This culminated with the electronically detached 2016 album The Wilderness. Officially, End is album number seven, in terms of being a regular EITS album, with no affiliation to films or television shows. It’s these seven albums that I return to most from their back catalogue as I find the band most alluring when the guitars and drums are in full flow.
So the aforementioned ‘Ten Billion People’ starts the album with some familiar tip-tap percussion, kooky electronic textures and a soaring ebow, reminiscent of some tunes from their Prince Avalanche soundtrack. Chris Hrasky gets to flex with a rumbling beat and it’s great to hear Explosions In The Sky get glorious once again as the track flows into a full-on smorgasbord of sounds. The layers of guitars are wondrously deep, and each play reveals new sounds that fuse with some brilliant percussion and out-there sound effects. In terms of dynamic, the track is engaging throughout as it chops and changes in tone and tempo and intricate rhythms permeate the mix. ‘Moving On’ opens with those exquisite clean guitar tones the band are famous for, before a pumping beat jumps in and fires the track into blissful euphoria. Throw in a lovely warm organ and this is one of the band’s most uplifting tunes.
At the start of ‘Loved Ones’, a heavily reverbed piano pings like a lost spaceship sending a signal back to earth. A brief passage of distorted guitars being roughed up subsides into a beautiful melodic section, that combines the best sounds from the band’s back catalogue. Delicate twinkling guitar lines fused with just the right amount of distortion and blood and thunder drums. Explosions In The Sky have often been mentioned in the same breath as fellow instrumentalists Mogwai, yet the two bands are ultimately very different in sound. But the opening section of ‘Peace Or Quiet’ finds them sounding just like Mogwai with a meandering bass line and melodies straight off Young Team. Hrasky’s percussive contribution appears to be a few little taps of the hi-hat. That’s until the massive blow-out at the end drops in unexpectedly as the track erupts into a crunching head punch of drums and distortion. It’s taken them all this time to do breach the Mogwai template in such a way.
‘All Mountains’ is an oddity in that it drops in as if the intro sections have been cut away. Pulling out all their trademark sounds, the guitars flicker like fireflies as the melodies shoot into the sky. After a few albums of experimentation and too much quiet for my liking, it’s extremely satisfying to hear the band rock out again. Drums get battered and distortion pedals get kicked as familiar motifs and hooks jump out ever increasing the intrigue. This one will sound HUGE live I have no doubt. ‘The Fight’ rises up on some screeching tones and craggy drones before flowing into a soothing sea of ebow and shimmering clean guitars. The melodic layers are intricate as they slither and writhe in trying to win your attention. When the track settles into its metallic groove it’s extremely satisfying to hear the band locked into this perfect blend of distortion and clean guitars.
Closing track ‘It’s Never Going To Stop’ begins with some mournful piano and sighing guitars. The urge for experimentation overtakes with the next passage, as the band return to the burbling tones and minimalist percussion that populated much of The Wilderness. There’s a sizeable nod to the intricate soundscapes of Radiohead as piano becomes the focal instrument. This track, and indeed the entire album, is very much to be enjoyed with a pair of earphones/headphones as there’s so much going on here. It’s a curious end to the album, which for the most part, has been raucous and higher in volume than recent releases.
Explosions In The Sky have pulled together all of the finest moments from their incredible back catalogue and created an album that keeps the listener intrigued throughout. Dynamically, the album rises and falls perfectly, and the guitar tones from Michael James, Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith are just sublime throughout. I’m particularly pleased that drummer Chris Hrasky has been allowed to work his kit and he does so with gusto. After over 20 years of existence, it’s so good to hear Explosions In The Sky still creating glorious and exciting music and End is one of their finest albums to date.