Everyone has their preferences, and I’m not here to change yours, or even to argue for mine. I’m no expert, or even particularly insightful, and I’ve even claimed not to listen to music because it can be too manipulative. But being a critic is easy, and creating beauty is hard, so when we find it we should take note, appreciate it, and be unashamedly grateful for it, declaring it to the world.
So this is that. Merely a note of gratitude for Explosions in the Sky and their masterpiece album, The World Is Not A Cold Dead Place, after being brought to tears on an otherwise ordinary Saturday afternoon.
From the first, slow cadence of “First Breath After Coma” through to the idealism of “Your Hand In Mine”, The World contains sadness and joy, happiness and hope, longing and loneliness, expectation and exaltation, but behind it and under it and through it, lives beauty. Because there are no lyrics or vocals, the beauty is stark and and subtle at the same time, both suggestive and evocative. Here, go read a real music critic use words like radiance and purity to describe the brilliance and the glory.
When I think of all the ugliness in the world, the selfishness and the greed, the hate and the despair, I’m sustained by this album and these songs, this band and these musicians, these human people, who went to West Texas and labored to give voice to their belief that there is, there should be, beauty in the universe. To produce works of such wonder surely requires a faith that artistry is even possible, an unselfishness that it must be given to the world. Artists must believe in grace, must fight against the offensive to prove that beauty exists and is worth finding, and must be unselfish enough to share that beauty with the world. The result, then, is truly a gift, a manifestation, of God or Love or the universe or whatever it is where beauty lives.
I remember walking down East Colfax Street in Denver before my first and only Explosions in the Sky show last fall, holding the hand of my wife, walking through the world, unaware at the time I was walking towards something beautiful, though in hindsight the music was the soundtrack of the time, floating in the air all around. Our marriage was struggling, and I remember crying during the show, watching Munaf Rayani offer everything to the music, and feeling so grateful for him and his gift, feeling a shared spiritual experience, buoyed by the generosity. I remember looking around at the crowd, the couples talking, the people on their phones, and thinking, “these people have no idea what they’re witnessing. They’re letting beauty and grace float right past them.”
The band has many great songs throughout their discography but The World Is Not A Cold Dead Place stands alone as a complete monument to mastery and elegance. There’s not a note out of place, not an emotion that doesn’t belong. The drummer, Chris Hrasky, said once in an interview he didn’t think the band’s old songs needed to be so long, that they could say what they wanted to and be done. He was wrong. The songs on The World are exactly as long and as short as they need to be.
Look, I know this whole essay is pretentious, but people walk down the aisle to “Your Hand In Mine”, and this Reddit post will break your heart, so the music of Explosions in the Sky means something to more than just me, evokes some shared idea in a lot of us. The World Is Not A Cold Dead Place comes from the same place as Beethoven and Mozart and Bob Marley, The Cranberries and Leonard Cohen, Yiruma and the opera guy from Britain’s Got Talent. It comes from the place where beauty lives. And I am so, so grateful the beauty found me and I was listening.