The soundtrack for the 2013 film Prince Avalanche, created by instrumental rock group Explosions in the Sky in collaboration with David Wingo, has to be considered one of the most strange and potentially divisive albums in the band’s repertoire. Though the group gained notoriety when they were featured extensively on the soundtrack to 2004’s Friday Night Lights, the music used there was undeniably similar to what EitS produced normally. Prince Avalanche shows an entirely different side of the band: instead of making highly cinematic music that builds from silence into bombastic, cathartic releases of sonic thunder and emotion, it seems as if the opposite was achieved here. The result is a release that perhaps has more in common with Brian Eno’s soundtrack albums than anything even remotely connected to the post-rock genre. Depending on the listener, that can either be a really good or a really bad thing.
Personally, I rather liked that EitS changed up their basic music formula here. It’s one thing to make a soundtrack that’s identical to the studio albums the band has made over a decade-plus career, but to work outside their comfort zone indicates that perhaps this group does in fact have an honest career at scoring films. Not every film would or indeed does require the ear-shredding ferocity that many Explosions in the Sky songs work towards, and to be honest, I think the band needed to focus their energies on something a little different after a half dozen solid but increasingly tiresome studio releases.
From the opening track “Fires,” which incorporates the sounds of a babbling brook under the shimmering guitar ambiance, Prince Avalanche alternates between minimalistic, quiet, and delicate compositions and ones that offer glimpses of the more bold music EitS is usually associated with. The film’s main theme (which appears second on the album) begins with a clarinet melody of the type classical composer Erik Satie might employ before a gentle and flowing acoustic guitar takes over the piece’s second half. These same instruments are heard in several of the following tracks as well, often joined with twinkly piano. One of the relatively few more substantial pieces on the album (around half are under two minutes), “Alone Time” is built around a gurgling electronic rhythm, heavily reverbed, wordless vocals, and layers of plucked acoustic guitar. The track eventually builds in intensity around the three-quarter mark before fading out peacefully and may be the one that most obviously bears the imprint of the musical group who created it.
“Hello, Is This Your House?”stands as a solemn and almost mournful guitar and piano duet that perfectly reflects a deeply-rooted loneliness. It’s also a sharp contrast to the remainder of the more upbeat and generally hopeful pieces found on the album, the perfect example of which may be “Join Me on My Avalanche.” Propelled along by an electronic rhythm and synthesizer melody, this track reminds me of vintage 1980s movie title music; all it’s missing is a cheesy and overbearing vocal line. After the pensive piano number “The Adventures of Alvin and Lance,” the soundtrack concludes with “Send Off.” Starting with a calmly strummed guitar accompanying dreamy piano and lazily tooting horns, the piece finally works itself into a round-like concluding section of cascading drums, gentle vocal choir, burping electronics, and hoarse woodwinds.
Throughout this climax, arguably the loudest single moment on the album, the Prince Avalanche Soundtrack retains a slightly lazy feel: I haven’t seen the movie this music comes from (it sounds like one of those “quirky dramas” that seem increasingly popular in recent years), but the approach to the soundtrack would seem to suggest the entire film has a sleepy mood to it. Undoubtedly, the problem that many listeners would find with this soundtrack is that there aren’t enough (or maybe, any) “WOW!” moments contained on it; the vast majority of tracks here are short pieces explicitly designed to create a specific mood. They do this exceptionally well, but the low-key approach means that listeners used to the normally high impact music of Explosions in the Sky might find this album to be dull. Nonetheless, unremarkable though it may be, I think the material here is very well-crafted and works incredibly well as relaxing background music. This isn’t a barn-burner of an album, but it’s excellent for what it is
7.5 / 10
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