I guess if you’re going to name your band Explosions in the Sky, you better sound fucking huge. And, well, these Texans have surely managed that much, at least. Their epic sound has always felt like it came more from a rock orchestra than a four-piece band. They’re also a particular kind of band: The kind where on one hand you know exactly what you’re going to get with a record, and on the other hand, you are wholly surprised by how fresh they manage to keep their sound.
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is another beautiful record from the band, and another fresh track laid on their sonic landscape, a slight tangent from their other records that never loses their overall direction. It starts with that title really. Ever since How Strange, Innocence, the album titles have mostly been wordy and lofty declarations. There’s 2001’s Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, or 2003’s The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, or 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. Each title is as declarative and stark as the last. But here we get a short phrase repeated, a wish upon departure, something much more open ended and manageable.
That feeling drifts into the music itself. As similar as it sounds to the other records, there’s something more organic about Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. They sound approachable, big, yet within their means for the most part. In other words, they sound like a band. This may seem like a shrinking of scope, but it actually creates effective space around the songs instead of filling it all up. Where these guys used to want to fill Texas nights with all their expanding sounds, now they’re letting that Texas sky carry some of the load. “Last Known Surroundings” starts the album with the lean ringing of chords, while the drums chug out a spacious rumble. There’s another grinding guitar line, but its wailing away in the background. They do whip themselves into a fury here, no doubt, but the guitars circle around themselves in tense swirls rather than unraveling out into the atmosphere.
“Human Qualities” follows with mostly hushed tones. The space they created on the first track takes on its own sound here, framing the echoing sounds instead of giving them room to roam. It’s hard to tell how they did it (though they’ve been slowly moving away from overt volume over the past 10 years) but they’ve managed to tighten the tones on this record and thus up the tension even at its most quiet moments. Even though you know “Human Qualities” will break out eventually, the care they took with all that quiet, the slow build-to-release they’ve mastered, still makes it a towering surprise.
Of course, these guys can still sound larger than life when they want. “Postcards from 1952,” which builds itself mostly on lilting nostalgia, ends up turning in the records loudest moment. The drums explode to life in the end, guitars finally pull free of the reigns and unleash an onslaught. But what’s impressive about Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is how that kind of volume isn’t what they rely on for their power anymore. These songs still build to rupture, for sure, but rather than the immediate lightning, we get a deeper, more resonant thunder.
Epic closer “Let Me Back In,” with its interplay of staccato chords and lingering riffs, embodies the album’s strengths perfectly. The album goes out with a bang, but instead of imagining things bursting in the atmosphere, you can see four players shredding it on a stage. The album fades into a distant, quiet coda, giving us a moment to recover from all this bracing music. Because even when these guys sound more like a four-piece, they still cover an awful lot of ground. So maybe it isn’t that they’ve given up size here, but switched to a different sort of size. And if that’s the case, then the new size suits them well.