How Strange, Innocence was the first release by the Texas post-rock band Explosions In The Sky, recorded and released during springtime of 2000. The full length album was constructed during a relatively amateur period of the bands career, as they had only been playing together for roughly seven months before they decided to make this album. What comes out because of this is a truly jumbled experience filled with magnificent high points and some relative lows. Explosions In The Sky would agree with me in this assessment, as they themselves feel a little ashamed of the album, which is the reason they only pressed 300 original copies.
The record has been available for free download on a website that regularly hosts live recordings of post-rock bands, Kerm.net. However, Explosions In The Sky has finally given in and are going to re-release this album to coincide with their upcoming November 2003 tour. After the tour the album will also be available on several mail order sites, and a vinyl version will be for sale through one of their friends record labels.
In some ways How Strange, Innocence is the antithesis to their later works of Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever, and The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, with the latter being clearly defined albums with unified themes and feelings and the former being more a collection of songs than a solid entity. Perhaps it is right to say that too much emotion went into How Strange, Innocence, which would account for it being all over the place and hard to pin down with one solid theme.
That emotion also transfers into compositions of the songs. Explosions In The Sky clearly has a huge amount of ideas and sounds running around in their head, but they just don’t know how to clearly express them yet in this release. Songs will cut out unexpectedly and begin back up without any clear transition or reason, in similar ways that current rap producers are doing now-a-days. Still, the composition is generally solid, and always enjoyable.
Another large difference between How Strange, Innocence and the later albums is the sound quality. Compared to the bands recent albums, with their extremely polished sound quality and warm, rich textures, How Strange, Innocence seems more like a demo created in a friend’s basement with an 8-track recorder. Surprisingly this doesn’t cut down the album at all; in fact it helps it to emphasize the "innocence" of the album.
The one thing that remains constant as an all-encompassing aspect of Explosions In The Sky’s music is the ability for their music to paint vivid pictures in the head of the listener. Instead of the horrors of war given to us in Those Who Tell The Truth we are greeted with much more hopeful and innocent sounds that almost come off as naïve. Every once in a while it might bring us down, as the band proclaims that one song is, in fact, about a "couple waking up on Christmas morning to find their children slaughtered underneath the Christmas tree", but the mood will ultimately stay lighter than that.
Track Listing with descriptions
1. A Song For Our Fathers (5:42)
The whipping of helicopter blades begins How Strange, Innocence. A bass melody is then put into place to begin the song, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of Explosions In The Sky, as they don’t very often use a bass guitar in their songs. Another instrument, rare to Explosions songs, that shows up during A Song For Our Fathers is an acoustic guitar, which is almost never seen during Those Who Tell The Truth. Rising and falling dynamics morph around the same bass melody that exists for the majority of the song. At the end the helicopter returns to finish the song off.
2. Snow And Lights (8:16)
Snow And Lights is perhaps the most epic of all the songs on How Strange, Innocence, and could very likely be the song that the band wrote about the Christmas morning murder. I can see the song progressing with the murder itself taking place during the opening chaotic first minute, the awakening and discovery by the father during the middle, and ending with the father running out of the house during the final minute of heavy distortion and drum rolls. This song is also a prime example of the lo-fi sound quality working to the bands advantage, because the bass drum sound could not be gathered any other way.
3. Magic Hours (8:29)
Explosions In The Sky pulls a complete 180 in terms of sound here, with the opening riff being reminiscent of something that an alternative band might have done in the mid-90’s. The song gets back onto the post-rock path with a pulsating, solid strum build up. However, in the background there is a shaker that somehow loses rhythm with the strumming, but it’s eventually replaced with an on time drum roll, with no harm being done. This song is a case of stopping in mid-song and then bringing up a completely different theme there after. This new theme is soon joined with a really fast break beat and momentary distortion that progresses to the ending explosion.
4. Look Into The Air (5:30)
This song opens with an excellent guitar melody that is greatly aided with the addition of a delay pedal. With sleigh bells and deep sounding ride, the drums once again pick up the slack and develop a very solid rhythm. Once again, however, the band goes for the ol’ "stop-in-the-middle-of-the-song-and-pick-it-up-again-with-a-new-theme" move. That’s completely fine, because this new song within a song is the perfect compliment to the first half of the song. If the band could have just figured out a way to make the two parts mesh somehow this song could have been a hit single on post-rock radio.
5. Glittering Blackness (5:30)
Glittering Blackness opens with a harmonic melody that is reminiscent of Spiderland, before the song goes heavy and takes the exact drumbeat from "The Moon Is Down", which is off of Those Who Tell The Truth. After the heavy part the band repeats the beginning, but then manages to utilize the meshing of melodies technique to move on to a different aspect of the song. The song continues to progress into heavier areas until it ends suddenly when you are expecting them to go into another drum roll heavy area.
6. Time Stops (9:55)
This is one song that I really wish could have been aided with the use of a vocal presence. The introduction to this song just seems like it’s shouting out for someone to be singing over it. However, what this song may lack in vocals it will make up for with new instrumentation, including the return of the acoustic guitar and the addition of a cello, which keeps the song fresh enough. But once again, after the first five minutes of slow, drumless tranquility, the song suddenly stops in it’s place and begins on a different idea. Now it’s time for the return of the breakbeat drums and distortion freakout to end the song.
7. Remember Me As A Time Of Day (5:27)
It’s very fitting that the album ends with this song, as it is a perfect foreshadowing of things to come for Explosions In The Sky, with the opening riff takes on a relatively darker tone. The song later progresses with a kind of sweeping, almost waltzing, rhythm that couples would gladly dance to. Explosions In The Sky make the right decision when they don’t end this song with a climaxing distortion session, but with a few fading plucked strings.