Explosions in the Sky
How Strange, Innocence
requels are always a tricky venture (see: the critical reception of The Phantom Menace), but for the majority of listeners the “new” Explosions in the Sky release, How Strange, Innocence, will be just that. Recorded a year prior to the group’s official debut (2001’s Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever), How Strange was published only in the form of 300 or so CD-Rs that were sold at early live shows. Original copies have sold for over $200 on eBay. That fact alone is a stronger endorsement than any review could ever give.
The release of How Strange is perfectly timed given the successes EITS have enjoyed during the last two years. 2003’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place was lauded by almost everyone who heard it, and in 2004 the band completed their highest profile project, the official soundtrack to Friday Night Lights. With no new material on the immediate horizon, officially releasing How Strange for the first time was a smart move to maintain the band’s current momentum. And for those of us who are hearing How Strange for the first time, it provides a valuable glimpse at a band that was rife with potential—potential that is now being realized. Plus it’s a pretty good album in its own right.
The primary reservation that one might have with How Strange is that, at times, it can be pretty dull. EITS’s influences are prevalent throughout the album, and while that’s certainly to be expected, some of the slower moments seem disappointingly deliberate, as if there are lulls in the action simply because there should be. “Magic Hours” contains too many moments like this—a stereotypical opening with a sleepy guitar line and an interlude in the middle where the bass is used only for periodic thuds. Thankfully the majority of the slower material is filled with delicate interplay that subtly builds upon itself; often this is what separates better instrumental bands like EITS from the plodding pack.
There will always be songs where instrumental rockers go all the way, and, as one would expect, there is no shortage of these moments on How Strange. EITS are exceptionally good at executing their crescendos, as they always throw in minor nuances that keep them from sounding like reckless assaults on their equipment. I’m talking about the shattering cymbals that appear everywhere on their albums, the hollowed out drums that carry the end of “Snow and Lights,” and the intricate basslines that are peppered throughout. Listening for these subtleties is what makes How Strange—not to mention EITS as a band—so rewarding.
While How Strange can be predictable at times (the aforementioned lifeless parts, the woozy closer, “Remember Me as a Time of Day,” a letdown following the epic penultimate track), it is above average as a whole. It doesn’t equal either of the band’s prior (or later, depending on how you look at it) releases, but its release is a worthwhile endeavor, notable for devout and casual fans alike.
Reviewed by: Ross McGowan
Reviewed on: 2005-10-13