For their first non-soundtrack work in five years, Texan instrumental rock quartet Explosions in the Sky have made a slight departure from the cinematic crescendo-core they've become famous for since making their debut in the early 2000s. Unlike the majority of their previous studio full-lengths, The Wilderness doesn't contain any songs that approach the ten-minute mark. It seems like the immediacy of the group's film scores has helped guide the group's direction, and the electronic experimentation of Inventions (EitS member Mark T. Smith's side project with Eluvium's Matthew Cooper) has certainly encouraged the band to add some different tonal colors to its landscapes. It's hard to tell exactly what instruments and techniques the group is employing here; the only additional musicians credited are two string players, and it sounds like the group is stretching out from standard rock band instrumentation on much of the album, but the liner notes don't specify which instruments the individual members are playing. The album is every bit as rich, dramatic, and tuneful as one would expect, but there's more of a sense of space to this one. Or perhaps more accurately, they approach space in different manners here. In some ways, the album seems more influenced by minimalism than previous works, particularly in how rhythms steadily build on tracks like opener "Wilderness." Having said that, the group unpredictably tears things apart on songs like "Logic of a Dream," which opens with drawn-out melancholy chords before introducing rippling tom-toms and ghostly vocals, and then violently building up to a heavy climax and swooping down with sinister strings. After this, however, the group launches into a coda of light, sprightly indie pop. More than ever, the band seems delighted to use the recording studio as an instrument. Overloaded crunchy distortion gives a bite to the drums, which range from galloping marching band cadences to rolling toms that resemble waves rocking a boat on a stormy sea. The group use beautifully smudged electronic tones throughout the album, experimenting with dub-influenced crashing echo on "Colors in Space" and beginning "The Ecstatics" with light, bubbling arpeggios. The album is every bit as intricate and multi-layered as its elaborate foldout packaging, adventurously encouraging listeners to dive in and explore. On The Wilderness, Explosions in the Sky deconstruct and rebuild their sound from the ground up, giving it a revitalized sense of urgency and resulting in some of their most dynamic work yet.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson