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Explosions In The Sky
Big Bend (An OST for Public Television) Zara Hedderman , October 6th, 2021 07:38

Texan post-rockers soundtrack a PBS documentary about a national park

The restorative qualities of nature are regularly regarded as being an unparalleled source of rejuvenation. For many, planting bare feet in the grass proffers a sense of grounding. While walking amongst wooded terrain, birdsong, or a nearby trickling stream can be effective at clearing away internal cobwebs or orientating your way through challenging times. Similarly, certain pieces of music can provide such comfort and clarity of mind. Explosions In The Sky’s latest offering, Big Bend (An Original Soundtrack for Public Television), is a gorgeous merging of these worlds as their expansive and enveloping style lends a musicality to a recently released PBS documentary entitled Big Bend: The Wild Frontier of Texas which celebrates the vast terrain of Big Bend National Park located in the band's native Texas.

Visually, Big Bend is a magical place that seems like it could only exist within the animated world of The Land Before Time. It's filled with impossibly large scorched umber-hued mountains and blankets of greenery which house a wild zoo of over 450 types of birds, fifty-six species of reptiles and seventy-five different breeds of mammals. Over its history, it’s been a site of great geological discovery with remnants of dinosaur bones, sea fossils, and volcanic dikes unearthed across its vast terrain. In further bringing this space to life through music, Explosions In The Sky, the Texas post-rock instrumentalists, bring a wealth of sentimentality and introspection to its landscape. Across the twenty songs – coming in at a little under an hour, with titles remaining faithful to the task at hand, like ‘Climbing Bear’, ‘Stories In Stone’, and ‘Rains Legacy’ – the quartet are contented, as ever, in steadily cultivating powerful, multi-faceted arrangements. Here, as is the case with much of their softer ruminations on The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003) or compositions for the Prince Avalanche OST, there's ample heart underpinning the predominantly understated compositions which reveal more intricacies with each subsequent listen.

In spite of the overarching sedate atmosphere permeating Big Bend, this is by no means a passive record performed by a band working on auto-pilot. Certainly, on Explosions In The Sky’s latest body of work – their first soundtrack since 2014’s Manglehorn, and first release since 2016’s The Wilderness – their extremely accomplished musicianship patiently develops the soundscapes but there are plenty of moments where the listener is thrust into eruptions of sound, as is the case with ‘Owl Hunting’ and the firing of drum rolls on ‘Bird Family’. Those moments of invigoration do well to bring forth a tempered dynamism to the overall atmosphere of the record. One which is built upon a rich tonal palette comprised of expressive string accompaniments, sweet strumming on acoustic guitar, tumbling piano chords, slide guitar, and bells.

Outside of their emotive performances, there's a stunning lightness captured across the production which heightens the meditative mood of the record. This is particularly felt in the golden glow of ‘Spring’, ‘Swimming’, and the texturally sublime ‘Summer’. In those brighter moments, the listener is allowed to momentarily switch-off and sit back. Countering the sonic luminosity, Big Bend is speckled with darker-intoned instrumentation. Heavy electronic textures rippling across ‘Winter’ are deeply unsettling, while the quickened tempo of ‘Nightfall’ could naturally co-exist alongside the heartier percussion that distinguishes Hounds of Love within Kate Bush’s canon. These moments catch you off guard like an unexpected downpour of rain on a summer afternoon.

A beautiful introduction and guide through Texas’s Big Bend National Park, Explosions In The Sky treat the space with great sensitivity and dignity. A record for escape and restoration of the mind.