Over the last 17 years, Texas instrumental group Explosions In the Sky have crafted six albums of meteoric post-rock and have forged a reputation as masters of film scores, having crafted music for 2013’s Prince Avalanche and Lone Survivor, 2014’s Mangelhorn and, most famously, 2004’s Friday Night Lights. On their latest record, The Wilderness, the quartet temper their hard-soft blasts with a more meditative sprawl, slinking toward uncharted territory for their most muted and divergent album to date. It’s a stunning leap, but one that finds them struggling to reconcile their two extremes.
Despite the title, The Wilderness’ 45-minute stretch sounds more like a trip through a black hole than a stroll in the woods. In fact, the band has said they were inspired by the scores of sci-fi movies like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Swift, spine-piercing jolts wreak havoc on the record’s still-but-striking expanse, and an ominous, off-key undertone looms beneath most tracks. On “Colors In Space,” a jarring mid-song thwack eventually hurls into shrieking disarray, and “Logic of A Dream” swells to a cacophonous blur. There are quiet stretches of beauty, too, like the echoing bloom of “The Ecstatics” and the soft, skyward sails of “Landing Cliffs.”
These highs are both exhilarating and somewhat baffling, for the bulk of the record merely skirts such moments. It’s as if EITS dipped their toes into exotic waters and didn’t have the gall to dive in. The result is a record that sounds less like the remaking they billed it as and more like an explorative sidestep.