Arachnophonia: Explosions in the Sky “The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about resources from the Parsons Music Library‘s collection.

All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by student worker Cole (class of 2021) and features Explosions in the Sky’s 2003 album The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place. Thanks, Cole!

Explosions in the Sky

The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place

Explosions in the Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place

You’re watching a film. It’s a sports movie about a chippy group of underdogs defying all odds and barreling towards impossible success. Or it’s a coming-of-age story about teenagers coping with the incredible, ineffable weight of being. Or it’s a true story of human struggle in the face of calamity–a military operation gone wrong; an oil rig exploding. What music is playing? If the film was made in the past two decades, there’s a very good chance it’s post-rock.

The term ‘post-rock’ was coined by music journalist Simon Reynolds in 1994. It is used, broadly, in reference to any music that uses rock instrumentation but doesn’t adhere to rock song convention. Post-rock songs are most often long instrumental pieces that focus on musical texture and build to all-out climaxes, a subgenre affectionately dubbed ‘crescendocore.’

In 2003, Texas-based post-rock band Explosions in the Sky released their third studio album, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. This album is widely regarded as their greatest work, and is considered one of the essential works of the genre. Explosions’ brand of post-rock — layers of reverb and delay-laden guitars punctuated by the ever-marching cadence of a snare drum — came to define the genre in the early 21st century, due in no small part to the 2004 film Friday Night Lights.

Explosions in the Sky

After Explosions released The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, they were approached by Brian Reitzell, a Hollywood composer, producer, and film music supervisor, about soundtracking the upcoming big-budget sports film Friday Night Lights. At this point, having a relatively unknown post-rock outfit soundtrack a major Hollywood release, let alone a sports movie, was unheard of. Rocky III’s “Eye of the Tiger“, this was not.

After Reitzell demoed the group’s music to studio executives, permission was granted to bring the band on board. Musically, the soundtrack to Friday Night Lights retains much of the aesthetic of The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. The band even adapted the song “Your Hand in Mine” from the album for the film.

Friday Night Lights went on to be both a critical and commercial success, though its greatest influence on the film industry was arguably its Explosions-crafted soundtrack. The film ushered post-rock into the mainstream, and the band’s music quickly found use as ‘temp-music’ — music used by directors when editing their films to give an idea to their composer of how they want a piece to sound (for an in-depth account of what temp music is and how it affects a film’s production, check out this video from Every Frame a Painting). James Rettig of Stereogum even went as far as to call the band’s signature sound to “a cheat code for music supervisors seeking to convey emotional turmoil and the triumph of the human spirit.”

If the Friday Night Lights soundtrack is the sound that launched a thousand imitators, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place is the band’s full-length expression of that sound, uncompromised by the necessities of scoring a film. Though their music has inescapable cinematographic connotation, Explosions in the Sky’s albums remain an intensely intimate listening experience. The lack of lyrics in fact enhances the music’s narrative potential: It invites you to construct a mental movie theater for one. You sit down in your seat and gaze up at the silver screen as your own memories are projected in front of you. Scenes from your life play out like a film, a melodramatic filter laid over it all. You conjure some memories that aren’t your own — games never played, starry night skies above fields never lain in, chances never taken — but the feelings are yours. When you open this album, you are greeted by the explanation to its title: “The Earth is not a cold dead place because you are breathing, because you are listening.”