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Explosions in the Sky's Instrumental Alternative

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Austin, Texas, band called Explosions in the Sky has spent eight years pursuing what might strike some as a tiny sub-specialty: alternative instrumental rock.

The band has a new album called "All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone." Tom Moon has this review.

TOM MOON: Critics have twisted themselves into knots trying to describe the sound of Explosions in the Sky. According to some, they're a post-rock band. Others see them as the return of progressive rock of the 1970s. One review mentions the French Impressionist Claude Debussy and the German opera composer Richard Wagner in the same sentence.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: It's not all that complex, really. This band makes great epic rock without words.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: To the four musicians of Explosions in the Sky, not having a singer means not being tied to a fixed narrative. Its sprawling, episodic songs might describe breathtaking nature scenes or tense emotional exchanges. One song on their new disc is called "It's Natural To Be Afraid."

Drummer Chris Hrasky says that from the beginning the band's goal has been to hit people on a visceral level, if not overwhelm them. They haven't needed a vocalist goal for that.

(Soundbite of song "It's Natural To Be Afraid")

MOON: So much instrumental music is about exhibitionism, those brain-cramping displays of technique. The four musicians of Explosions in the Sky can play that way, but they rarely do. Instead, they approach the songs as elaborate journeys. They develop musical ideas that sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. They'll thrash hard like a metal band or create a zone for quiet meditation and then link those extremes together.

This tune lasts nearly 14 minutes. It begins at a whisper.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: Then comes a more dramatic passage as the band gathers steam.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: And check out where it goes a few minutes later.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: Explosions in the Sky recorded this album live, with all four musicians playing in real time together. Drummer Chris Hrasky says that old school approach can be challenging; it's a bummer when somebody makes a mistake seven minutes into a 14-minute song. But when everybody's totally there, it sounds like four people having a thrilling experience, making grand and picturesque music that sweeps you into its momentum and takes you to a place where words are unnecessary and sound tells the story.

BLOCK: That review from Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Moon
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.