SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003).
Explosions in the Sky play beautiful, lengthy almost cinematic instrumentals. They are primarily a guitar-drum band, (but they do add bass from time to time).
Each of their albums is practically symphonic in its beauty as most of the songs start slowly, sparsely, with a few guitar notes. They have simple melodies that fold in on themselves. When the (often martial) drums are added, it brings a depth to the song that lets you know this isn’t simply some kind of ambient background music.
Mogwai is probably the most likely comparison point, yet Mogwai’s instrumentals don’t have quite the expansive feel…Mogwai tends to rock a little harder too. In some respects, Godspeed, You Black Emperor are another touchstone for epic instrumentals, and yet they really don’t sound anything alike. EITS’s songs are definitely rock: the guitars are clearly guitars, and when the bands rocks (and they do) it is definitely the rock of a guitar band.
The tracks are haunting (as is the bands’ name, the album name, and the song titles: “First Breath After Coma”; “Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean”) and yet they are ultimately uplifting, reaching crescendos that are hard not to be bouyed by.
Even as instrumentals, the tunes are so engaging that they quickly move to the front of your activity. You can’t go wrong with any of thier discs.
And, yes, I chose this, their third album, to stand in contrast with the DFW piece below.
[READ: September 15, 2009] “The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing”
And so I went into this story expecting some kind of young (he was a junior in college when this was published) fantasy story ala Vonnegut (Tralfamadore and all that). Well, don’t make that mistake going into this.
This is some heavy shit. And one can only hope that it is as fictional as everyone ascribes, although really, that seems unlikely. ** [Please see my update at the bottom for my clarification on this rather naive sentence].Trillaphon is the narrator’s misremembering Tofranil, the antidepressant that he has been taking. The narrator feels that he is living off of Earth since taking the medicine. And yet, when he was on Earth, he was always chased by The Bad Thing.
The Bad Thing is that part of you that makes every atom in your being feel like it has an upset stomach and is on the verge of throwing up. The Bad Thing makes the narrator see an open wound in the side of his face which he attempts to self-sew-shut with carpet thread. It also forces him to pull as many electrical appliances as he can into the bath with him, shorting out the power (the only thing that saved his life).
This is heavy going, deep, psychologically harrowing stuff. Especially if you assume it to be true, and especially when you know that the author has taken his own life. I hate to read into any works like this, but it really is quite difficult not to.
And yet it is also astonishingly honest (if, again, it is true) for a college student to publish this in the college’s journal.
If you’re interested there’ a PDF available here.
[UPDATE: September 25, 2009]
Okay, so Ifeel that I may have gotten a little too caught up in the whole DFW saga while reading this story. Realistcially, the story is not “true.” Despite its deep insights into depression, I don’t think that DFW actually tried to take his life with toasters and things like that.
One of the problems of reading a story like this while knowing what the author did years later is that you can do just what I did to it: making it more real than it actually is. So, while yes, I think that DFW had to have known some pretty heavy stuff at this point, I firmly believe that it is correctly labeled fiction and should be treated as such. And I feel a little silly for getting as wrapped up with it as I did.
I feel compelled to re-read it as simply a fictional story, and I suspect I will one of these days.
It’s still harrowing shit though.
[UPDATE: October 7, 2009]
I have written a new, totally revised review of this story. It’s available here.