Ten Years #47: Explosions in the Sky


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
47. Explosions in the Sky (647 plays)
Top track (93 plays): Memorial, from The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
Featured track: Your Hand in Mine, from The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)

f#a#oo and Ágætis Byrjun might constitute my first introductions into the diverse world of sound we generalize as post-rock, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós both forged unique paths that few if any bands have successfully replicated. When I think of the quintessential sound I associate with the genre, it’s Explosions in the Sky and Mono that first come to mind. (And Isis, for the genre’s metal variant.) I don’t know that any band has so successfully perfected the build-up to explosion formula without ever delving into metal as these guys. (The featured track here accomplishes this in a particularly subtle manner.)

While Memorial is my most played track, I don’t consider it my favorite. That title more rightly belongs to Your Hand in Mine. Their level of quality is so consistent though that nearly any track could have incidentally topped my play chart. Another thing I’ve always found so compelling about these guys is their knack for appropriate titles. This extends beyond a band name that perfectly captures their sound and the most pleasantly optimistic album title I have ever encountered. (The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place) Their track titles casually reach for the stars, predicting an overload of emotion and imagery that the songs themselves never fail to deliver. It’s amazing how much “A Poor Man’s Memory” and “First Breath After Coma” are enhanced by four simple words. “The Birth and Death of Day” practically names itself. More than any band I have encountered save perhaps Krallice, Explosions in the Sky have mastered the art of employing language as a descriptive subtitle to the thoughts and experiences they directly express through sound. The absurdity of this for Explosions is that they achieve it while remaining an exclusively instrumental band.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Star Trek Into Darkness”


StarTrekIntoDarknessEnterprisePoster

There are those who have argued online — and in print, as well, I’d imagine — that once you cross the invisible threshold from merely “liking” a recurring or serialized entertainment property/artistic venture (I’ll leave you, dear reader, to decide which of those categories the Star Trek franchise falls into) into becoming a full-fledged “fan” of it that you’re basically fucked, because while “liking” something means you appreciate it for what it does, being a “fan” of it means you like it for what it’s already done, and are quite happy to just have the folks behind it serve you up more of the same. Hell, you might even get pretty upset if they don’t!

I’m not sure I’m willing to go so far as to agree with that sentiment in its entirety — many fans of various works of genre entertainment actually appreciate being offered something new and unique on occasion, in my experience — it certainly applies to a very large segment of most of the various fandoms out there. You know the kind of folks I’m talking about — those who get worked into a mouth-foaming frenzy at the slightest changes or tonal shifts in a given installment of the film, TV, novel, or comic book series and feel the need to shout about what a “blasphemy” has taken place at the top of either their lungs or, as is more often the case these days with computer keyboards and such, fingertips. It gets pretty old pretty fast and I’ve learned to tune most of it out, but anyone who denies the existence of fans such as these is flat-out delusional — the more level-headed among us might like to ignore them, sure, but we can’t admit that they don’t exist. At least not with a straight face.

My point here being, you rightly ask? Uber-conservative fans such as this are bound to be happy with Star Trek Into Darkness (there’s no colon in the title, I checked), J.J. Abrams’ second foray into Gene Rodenberry’s venerable sci-fi universe, because, despite all its superficial “differences” to what has come before, this is really just more of the same.

Which isn’t my half-hearted and/or half-assed way of saying it’s a bad flick — all in all it’s reasonably well-executed and keeps the average audience member more or less interested throughout — it’s just that we’ve seen more or less all of this done before, and unlike with his first go-round, this time Abrams doesn’t even really expend any effort into tricking you into believing (at least on first viewing) that you’re witnessing some bold new take on things here.

And that should suit the stick-in-the-mud types just fine, I would think, since these are folks who go beyond simply being able to see the creaks and joins in a given structure and actually and actively like seeing them, pointing them out, and analyzing them ad nauseum.  In short, I think these people are gonna absolutely love the fact that this film’s big, supposedly-emotionally-resonant “turning point” is just a mirror-image inversion of the same exact scene in Star Trek II : The Wrath Of Khan. They’ll probably also enjoy the fact that, for all their supposed “added depth,” characters like Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura are still essentially one-dimensional ciphers who just have a few more lines now, and that Karl Urban’s Dr. “Bones” McCoy still speaks in nothing but utterly predictable one-liners rather than , you know, actual, honest-to-goodness dialogue. And I think they’ll also dig the fact that Abrams has quickly established recurrent patterns of his own here — gotta have a Leonard Nimoy cameo, gotta have at least one hot-chick-in-underwear scene, etc.

No doubt about it — if you’re one of these “don’t rock the boat too much or I’m really gonna bitch about it” types of fans, Star Trek Into Darkness  is bound to be right up your alley. In fact, it’s probably likely to make you feel pretty clever, as well, since you’ll be utterly convinced that the poor schmuck in the seat next to you isn’t going to see this movie’s “big revelations” coming.

Guess what, though? He (or she) probably is, since it only takes the most minimal amount of working knowledge of Star Trek lore to have a pretty solid guess as to the real identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s pseudonymous “John Harrison” villain, the way things are bound to play out once Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk leads leads his crew — uhmmmm — “into darkness” is essentially a foregone conclusion, and shit, your “this guy’s bound to die” radar is guaranteed to be  ringing at top volume from the get-go in relation to one of the story’s semi-principal characters (the oldest Trek trick in the book).

Again, none of which is to say this is in any way an actively bad film — the main cast all acquit themselves pretty well, especially Zachary Quinto as Spock, the CGI effects are uniformly just fine (heck, they always are these days), and the principal narrative is by and large plenty entertaining enough.  It’s just a thoroughly predictable one. If you’re in the mood to kick back, shut your brain off, and just sit through a fairly standard Star Trek romp, this’ll do the job just fine. Just don’t go in expecting anything more — or at the very least anything other — than that.

I have no idea where the Trek franchise is headed from here. Abrams has, as everyone knows, recently been handed the reigns over on Star Wars, as well, so whether or not he intends to do both I couldn’t say. It sounds to me like it would be an awful lot of work  to juggle them both, and maybe now would be a good time to walk away from this one and pass the buck  to somebody else. He’s clearly out of ideas here, anyway, so it wouldn’t be too big a loss.

One last time now, in unison — which is not me saying that this sucked ! It’s just an acknowledgement that it only took two films for the “new” Star Trek to become as safe and stagnant as the “old” version and that a genuinely fresh take on things might be for the best going forward.