There are both good and bad points to the new Explosions in the Sky album.
On the plus side, the band once again subtly shifts its style. The delicate, chiming guitar work of `The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place' has been energized by a rawer, more live sound. Drums seem more in the mix, particularly when the opening track `The Birth and Death of the Day' kicks into gear.
Piano has been introduced to the band's repertoire with good effect, best shown on the teasingly short and beautiful album closer `So Long Lonesome'. Also, the musicianship throughout is of the highest order and I would imagine the band sound fantastic live.
Now the downside. I have owned this CD for several weeks and given it many careful listens. In my experience, Explosions albums are not immediately accessible, which is not a problem in itself (although how some Amazon reviewers can declare a CD to be a five-star classic after only owning it for a day is beyond me). However, there seem to be two real problems with the album.
Firstly, whilst I am an admirer of the band and the way they take rock's basic guitar/bass/drums template to wonderful new places, Explosions in the Sky seem to be struggling here against their self-imposed limitations. There is a sense that we have heard it all before.
Secondly, and more importantly, is the lack of real inspirational quality. As already mentioned, the first and last tracks are very good, and I also quite like `What Do You Go Home To?' and `Catastrophe and the Cure' but there are no catch-your-breath moments here to compare with `Greet Death' from `Those Who Tell the Truth..' or `Your Hand in Mine' from `The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place'. `Welcome, Ghosts' and ` It's Natural to be Afraid' fall particularly flat, the latter track even fizzles out into a dull feedback finish.
In my opinion, `Those Who Tell The Truth..' remains Explosions's strongest album. `All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone' is a good album but four records into their career and the quality is gradually declining not improving. Without adding vocals I am not sure where they go from here.
Still, reviewing the album in isolation, it is worth three stars, no more no less. I suspect the hardcore fans will slate this review but I have tried to offer a balanced, honest view, I hope you found it helpful.