Take Care, Take Care, Take Care quiet yet explosive

How does one go about listening to post-rock instrumental band Explosions in the Sky’s new album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care?

There’s a lot of answers to that question.  But a quality pair of headphones or good speakers is key, as is a solid chunk of time to hear as much of the album as possible.  A drink or two – the kind that you savor, not chug – wouldn’t hurt, either.

That’s because the music of EITS isn’t really the sort of thing you just listen to for entertainment, like you might with some artists you hear on the radio.  Ever since their debut album, 2000’s How Strange, Innocence, EITS has specialized in the kind of introspective, hypnotic instrumental rock that makes you think of quiet bus rides at night or one-man road trips through the Midwest.  Their formula of flowing buildups and crashing rock climaxes anchored by minimalist clean guitar licks has worked for them, and in many ways they continue this basic formula in their latest album.

However, something has changed in Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.  Previous albums, most notably their stellar 2003 offering The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, had a grand sense of space, airiness and a sort of crystalline clarity to the recordings.  Take Care, however, experiments with densely layered, heavier-hitting compositions that attack more with the weight of a sledgehammer rather than the sharpness of a blade.

The album’s second track, “Trembling Hands”, is a perfect example of this shift in style.  It starts in a recognizable way, with a simple, repeating guitar melody.  But almost immediately, it jumps into a hectic mixture of vocal chants, snare drum rolls and layer upon layer of nearly indistinguishable stacks of guitar.  The main riffing motif remains essentially constant for nearly a minute and a half before finally transitioning into a new melodic idea.

This is not the swaying, drifting playing of earlier Explosions in the Sky compositions, which tended to roll like waves from one musical concept to another throughout songs.  And while repetitive melodies seemed to work in with a sort of meditative aura before, some parts within Take Care’s pieces can be overbearing, like an angry child trying to make a point.  “Enough, I get it!” you might cry.  But it may still be another two minutes before something really new happens, like with the crashing first third of the album opener, “Last Known Surroundings”.

Of course, there are things the band has always been good at, and these traits remain here to various extents.  The music, as a whole, is epic and cinematic and packed to the brim with little sound effects and instrumental touches, which is why good speakers or headphones are borderline mandatory.  And for the most part, the songs themselves aren’t all overpowering – rather, it’s notable bits and pieces here and there and everywhere that can drag like there’s no tomorrow.

In fact, not paying attention is the best way to enjoy Take Care.  Paying close attention and analyzing the music can actually, via some bizarre irony, hinder the experience – there’s just sections that might be outright boring under close observation.

Take Care, though, can seem brilliant when you’re zoning out, letting the reverb-laden guitars play out like the soundtrack to your slow-paced Friday night in.  This is also where that aforementioned drink can come into play: sink into a couch, close your eyes and let time pass you by.

But for all its faults, Take Care leaves hints that EITS’s newfound experimentation may, after all, work out quite well with a little more time and tweaking.  The finale track, “Let Me Back In”, is debatably the best track on Take Care, with a dynamic, clever soundscape that integrates what sounds like garbled speech with delicately strummed chords and sharp, echoing stabs of electronic groans.

Quiet yet explosive, and with a near-perfect blend of beautiful musicality and avant-garde inventiveness, it’s everything that Take Care, Take Care, Take Care could – and should – have been.

Unfortunate, then, that Explosions in the Sky only really hits their stride in the final ten minutes of the album.


2 stars