It’s been four years since we first witnessed Explosions in the Sky blow the tops of the mud-soaked festival crowd at Camp Symmetry. Back then, the Texan post-rock maestros toted co-headlining privileges with beloved Danish shoe-gaze outfit, Mew. This time round, the good folks at Symmetry Entertainment tickled our fancies with the addition of stomping alt-pop optimism in Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
With all of the introspect and postmodernism that was to be anticipated in the form of vintage productions doused in voguish affairs, we had to make sure our pair of writers picked up all of the pieces at The Coliseum.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
I finally get to write about this damn album.
UMO’s Multi-Love flew right under my radar until a seemingly harmless match on Tinder (let’s call her Charlie) threw me into the deep end of both the joys and entanglements of polyamory. Without getting too vivid with the devil in the details, all that is to be said is that up till about 5 hours before going on a first date with another one from the treacherous pits of online-dating, I didn’t know Charlie was married.
Perilously coy and vaguely implying that her husband wasn’t expected back for two weeks, the bigger blur was her attempt at convincing me, telling me her husband “didn’t mind”.
That date didn’t happen, and all Charlie insisted in the midst of our respectful so-long-and-thank-you’s was that I gave Ruban Nielson and his Unknown Mortal Orchestra a very good listen. That I could do.
Musically, and to the ears of new listeners, UMO’s funkadelic beats and licks are a real treat. Vibrantly outlined, messy with necessary asymmetrical harmonics, and the resonance of instrumental interludes; there’s not much wrong with the record at all. But the mumbles behind every one of those notes stitched to brooding perfection leaves a compelling need to ask for more.
Dressed in his distinctively oversized tee, Ruban nailed every lyric while in a wobbly and groggy daze with his guitar, poles apart from the undertones of Multi-Love – a record that was created from a single scratch at the comfort of his home studio with everything else falling apart outside of it.
UMO’s first two albums came after a concoction of brain-tinkering drugs, and a battle with insomnia and self-medication which gave Ruban the notoriety of a storm chaser. The third, however, and aptly named Multi-Love, was a collection of scribblings after a three-way polyamorous relationship between Ruban, his wife and mother of two, and much younger “Laura” went south.
In the heart-racingly revealing Pitchfork interview where Ruban shared more than he probably should have, he added more depth into the record than anyone would’ve possibly imagined. Even for Laura, who wouldn’t speak with Ruban since the release of that interview. Laura’s visa troubles forced her to leave the Nielson household twice, the first which drove Ruban “kind of crazy”, pressing him to spew it all out in the clicks and clacks of disco-tango infused Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.
The murmurs that remain long after the last tick of Multi-Love threaten to reverberate around any room with the flutter of desire and decadence, the confusion of adulation and androgyny, and the tension of raunch and regret.
I couldn’t quite give my two cents on the idea of polyamory; if you’ve seen my track records with romance, you’d see I shouldn’t be allowed a say in who and how you love. Perhaps I’d have more to say if I chased storms myself, and perhaps this would all have made for a better read if I’d at least shared a drink with Charlie, but for now, I’m just thankful I don’t keep checking my phone.
Explosions In The Sky
Much like their post-rock forebears, EITS don’t play songs as much as they create mini-symphonies of reverberating guitars and crashing percussion that ebb and flow. But unlike the anarchic sentiments of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, EITS’ considerably less chaotic tracks have earned them commercial appeal — and as dirty as that word might be within the genre, the quartet have done well for themselves. Films like Friday Night Lights have milked EITS’ stirring compositions to full effect. While GY!BE have made it clear that “all music is political”, EITS have refrained from making bold statements. Rather, they’ve created a niche alternative to post-rock’s world-weary approach to experimentation.
EITS claim to have thought of their moniker after watching the fireworks on the 4th of July, but having watched them perform live, you can’t help but think the band were on to something from the get go. There’s simply no better term to describe the cinematic beauty that unfolds before your eyes.
Now, I cannot possibly recall the countless times I’d stay up till the wee hours of the morning, burying my face in revision notes as EITS blared on in the background. Listening to them, even today, I get that familiar lump in my throat recalling the deafening loneliness of 4am where I just I only had myself for company. Looking back, I wasn’t alone after all. I could always count on the familiarity of the glistening progressions, building up and pulverising with shimmering warmth. I could go on about the countless nights EITS have cradled me to sleep, but that’s insignificant because EITS are a band that brings to mind sheer magnitude — grandiose heights and plummeting depths, that make for a spectacular live band that thrives on the thrill of IRL catharsis.
Having briefly addressed the crowd with as much conversation they could muster, shouts and applause had barely died down before EITS dived straight into Yasmin the Light, a perennial favourite that sent a wave of silence through the skeletal confines of The Coliseum. Blitzing through a non-stop 60-plus minute set, it was a joy to relive EITS classics from way back, and I’m convinced many die-hard fans would poignantly agree. But as timeless as tracks from Those Who Tell The Truth and All Of A Sudden are, a handful of offerings from the band’s latest album The Wilderness sounded pretty fucking good. Tracks like Disintegration Anxiety in particular, distinguished themselves from the rest, offering a refreshing and brief respite from their brand of lengthy orchestrations that have a tendency to bleed from one track to the next.
There’s something about music without any vocals that just seems to demand more — more affect from the musician’s standpoint, more submission as a listener. Whatever that je ne sais quoi might be, Texan post-rock heavyweights Explosions in the Sky don’t seem to have a problem composing grand narratives with equally lush soundscapes. I can only ask for more.