Over the course of their three albums Explosions in the Sky have followed in the footsteps of their post-rock contemporaries, translating the scope and grandeur of their forbearers into a more palatable and ultimately commercial idiom. Whilst they lack the hypnotic opulence of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or the volatile dynamism of Do Make Say Think they do possess their own earnest and unique majesty. They traffic a curious mix of deity and decline, quickly building images of spectral delight from subtle dissonance and dispelling them just as quickly. It is more of a one size fits all approach, however, for Explosions in the Sky, chasing those familiar muses of chaos and order with an inflexible template of crescendo followed by evaporation.

They have amassed quite a following and the Astoria is filled to the seams tonight, giving the impression of a Roman colosseum, surrounded on all sides by eager eyes waiting for the performance. Stage left and right are filled with Mark Smith and Munaf Rayan, who wield their guitars with surprising animation given the completive nature of the music they unleash, leaving bassist Michael James at centre stage and Christopher Hrasky on drums behind him. This line-up reflects a key difference between Explosions in the Sky and their contemporaries. Their relatively conventional instrumentation limits the range of their work; devoid as it is of the orchestral strings or versatile percussion that characterises many other protagonists of the genre. Furthermore, whilst it keeps all four musicians in equal focus, drawing attention to their ensemble playing and collective results, it can also allow attention to wander into the rafters, only to be dramatically recalled at the climax of a song.

Their set is one fluid journey encompassing sporadic heights and sprawling lows. There exists a remarkable elegance around the performers as they play and songs flow seamlessly, giving a great continuity to those in their thrall. Yet, this is also a weakness of the band; they struggle to capture, personify or enhance a specific mood and their work occasionally blends into a blur. There is a narrative to their performance; each piece has a discernable beginning middle and end with few unexpected tangents. There is little counterpoint or variety to their sound, each track patiently builds with the pleasure of a lullaby before descending from the clouds to reap vengeance. Their tactics are almost mechanical and the results are greeted with a crowd of statues.

Their spell is broken late in the set by an amplifier finally succumbing to the celestial onslaught and bursting into smoke, along with some unsightly hand clapping which did nothing to enhance the collective pleasure of the audience or those embarking on a slow ascension. Stretching melodies over eons takes mastery and talent beyond those of Explosions in the Sky, and they remain very much rooted in the present. Emotion wax and wane but leave little in the way of revelation of permanent change. They play almost with a safety net, afraid of what they might create should they truly unleash their powers. This is ultimately their downfall and perhaps why they remain on the second tier of this genre.
















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