Thursday, July 28, 2011

Explosions In the Sky, "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care"; The Caretaker, "An Empty Bliss Beyond This World"

Explosions in the Sky impressed me so much with their last album that I continued onto the logical next step in musical fandom -- tracking down live recordings. I downloaded a bunch of gigs from the Live Music Archive but rarely found myself listening to them. That was partly because their music, like that of most crushingly loud guitar based bands, is very difficult to record live, especially via audience recording. Having seen them live on an earlier tour, I knew what the "real" EITS sounded like, and those recordings weren't it. But this wasn't the main reason -- after all, poorly recorded live bootlegs are a fact of musical life, and had never stopped me from obsessing over recordings of countless other bands, even "loud" bands (e.g. Mogwai). Rather, I wasn't listening to those gigs (and eventually deleted many of them from my computer) because they all sounded the same.

And that's pretty much EITS in a nutshell. Even their fans know they repeat themselves ad nauseum. Even their fans have to admit that they've been recording the same album over and over again for ten years. "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone" was almost exactly like their earlier stuff, only better. There's no logical reason why a band like EITS should continue to run in place for as long as they have. Ten years ago it made sense to dream about a beautiful, apocalyptic post rock future. But now? The music they were making ten years ago shouldn't work in 2011, but somehow it does. "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care" is fantastic.

The album's structure is more or less the same as that of "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone" -- a bright, triumphant sounding song for the opener, introspective middle, furious finish followed by a more relaxed coda. The opening track, "Last Known Surroundings", is the triumphal overture/self-contained mini-suite that also happens to work equally well outside the context of the album. The furious finish happens toward the end of "Postcard from 1952" and the coda is "Let Me Back In", although at over ten minutes long it's less of a coda and more of an extended comedown. In between, "Be Comfortable, Creature" is something of a surprise, with its pulsing, shuffling, multi-layered rhythms that could almost pass for Do Make Say Think.

Don't skip this record just because EITS don't bring anything new to the table. It's not as well-executed as "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone", but rest assured that it sounds the same as all their other stuff. For this band, that still tends to be a good thing.


I can't hear the new Caretaker album without picturing his harrowing but entertaining non-performance from MUTEK 2010. A friend offers to show you his picture album from his year in Berlin, but what should have been fun stories about the city's nightlife turned into an endurance contest of increasingly unsettling debauchery. There'd be fond memories associated with the images if everyone wasn't so wasted and could remember even the smallest details about the nights the pictures were taken. That's The Caretaker for you -- 1920's Berlin coated in layers of gloom and paranoia, ostensibly happy songs and moments that have been sterilized and had all the joy sucked out of them.

FACT magazine recently reposted an article about the "20 Best Ambient" albums that included The Caretaker's "A Stairway to the Stars" from 2001, and this comment about that album perfectly encapsulates his music -- "The entire LP is built from old 78s and 1920s dance records narcotized and bathed in hiss and gloom until they feel like a scene from The Shining (the one where Jack meets bartender Lloyd)." Or even better, the album is like that feeling you got in the pit of your stomach as the camera slowly zooms in on the black and white picture of a grinning Jack Nicholson at a party from the hotel's supposed golden era.

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