Explosion in the Sky’s new album, The Wilderness, released April 1, challenges the limits of “study music.” Unlike other instrumental albums, The Wilderness takes listeners away from themselves, and their problem sets, to a busy, vibrant, emotional space of — true to its title — uncharted territory. The Wilderness tells a story better than many lyricists. But, in many ways, the story is written by the listener, who molds each beat to her transient perception. Explosion in the Sky’s daring to blend the serene with the passionate complicates their symphonies not just with the pretexts of rock-and-roll but also with a powerful message that seems, over and over, to undo the album’s calm.
From the moment “The Wilderness” begins with its fast-paced electric guitar and rhythmic tambourine, senses blend. In a wave of synesthesia viewers feel rather than hear a blend of instruments, notes, beats and melodies. As the track list continues playing, each song floats into the next with admirably careful progression. Explosion in the Sky perfectly names each of their mini-symphonies. As “The Ecstatics” bursts with energy, “Tangle Formations” feels like a web trapping musical insects and “Disintegration Anxiety” contains undifferentiated elements that fade to chaos. Its tracks vary widely in emotion and meaning. While “The Wilderness” feels light and calm, “Logic of a Dream” shifts between threatening forces and tranquility. In one moment, “Colors in Space” feels mystically hopeful; in another, it becomes undone by its own noise — a centrifuge spinning until it soundlessly breaks.
The Wilderness captures nature in its simultaneous energy and placidity. It is a beautiful, chaotic contradiction. It puts music to everything you know to be true and all that you fear in the unknown. The album presents a power struggle between order and disorder felt not only in earthly environments but also inside our heads. The energy in each song can be likened to the constant hum of insects and animals, but also to the ceaseless buzzing of thoughts around and within us. The Wilderness’s conscious lack of lyrics begs the listener to produce her own story — to answer each track’s symphonic questions. Whether order or anarchy wins out depends on her perception, or even more transiently, her ever-changing mindset.
All at once, the album feels alien and nostalgic, hopeful and threatening, serene and tumultuous. In fewer words, The Wilderness captures the essence of our everyday lives. Its daydream-like melodies are easy to listen to and impossible to fully understand. Like falling asleep in class and waking to a pop-quiz, The Wilderness is both predictable and ceaselessly startling. Explosions in the Sky gives a rhythm to the mundane.
Is The Wilderness “study music?” I think yes. Because, just at the very moment your brain starts to move toward zombie-like murk, the centrifugal bass guitar of “Colors in Space” will awaken you before the soundtrack quickly fades again to a peaceful melody in “Landing Cliffs.” The album, an amalgamation of double meanings and conflicting emotions not just throughout the track list but within each song itself, lives in many different interpretations. The music can wash over you or it can consume you. It can be merely sound or it can be the meaning of our lives among each other and within nature — ever changing, ever conflicting, ever inspiring.
The Wilderness has converted me, a lover of lyrics, into an Explosion in the Sky fan. Appreciators of Sufjan Stevens’ symphonic quality will treasure The Wilderness. The album wordlessly retains meaning, each mini-symphony a masterpiece of observation and experience. The message is contingent yet continuously relevant. Like the flux of nature, weather and wilderness, the album morphs to the listener’s ears. To mine, it inspired resilience, because, despite the utter confusion of the electric guitar, the interjections of quieter melodies remind me of enduring peace. And, even with the lonesomeness of a sole tambourine, the album stresses the naturalness of our lives. The melodies synchronize human thoughts with those of the environment. The Wilderness offers a catharsis to eager ears. It is the kind of music you resist unplugging.
Julia Curley is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].