Yet Explosions has amassed and sustained a devoted, dynamic following. They create music that cures banality by redeeming banality, and though the band has crafted, over the span of a decade, 38 separate tracks, it would be more accurate to say they've crafted one, gorgeous, ever-evolving score, to which listeners establish an individual relationship. While the music is very emotional, per se, it resists revealing itself and never asks to be "understood," which is why it tends to attract people who have nothing in common, as there is no singular message to unite under—no inside joke to be shared among fans. Instead, the music attaches itself to the situation in which it is played, giving shape and purpose to moments worthy of status updates while, simultaneously, recalibrating the planet's hierarchy of importance in the process. Suddenly the Arab Spring takes a backseat to the eating of a Boston cream doughnut. Suddenly the death of Osama Bin Laden takes a backseat to a trip through Target. Suddenly, like a teenager, you feel as though you're the center of the world.
It makes sense, then, that Explosions in the Sky scored the film Friday Night Lights and has also contributed arrangements to the superior spinoff television series of the same name. The latter, over five seasons, has garnered a diverse, cultlike following, almost exclusively, and perversely, on its ability to convince you of the universal worth of high school football and the religious function it serves in a static, middle-class Texas suburb. The weekly Friday game, which dwarfs Sunday church in importance, provides the show with both a narrative engine and dramatic arc—shape, in other words. The townspeople, laying down, like roses, their hearts and souls at the cleats of these athletes, transform them from boys into pagan icons. A victory means catharsis, and a loss warrants grieving. Either way they, the people, are redeemed—the static punctured. The show is the music's aesthetic equivalent.
Last April I saw Explosions in the Sky with my girlfriend, Sam, at Radio City Music Hall. Shortly before the show got under way, I scanned the crowd for some kind of anthropological consistency but, like a failed Russian spy, found nothing of significance. Directly in front of me sat a couple who looked as though they'd just walked in from the Kentucky Derby, sipping gin and tonics, pastel knitted sweaters wrapped around their necks. Beyond them sat a woman with a massive blonde puff of hair and a tattoo of a smoking gun on her shoulder. She talked loudly and, I swear, repeatedly said: "I don't sympathize with senior citizens. No no!" And beyond her sat a group of three men wearing thick-framed glasses and plaid shirts. They often high-fived and snapped pictures with their cell phones, as if repeatedly confirming they were, indeed, dressed identically. I was wearing a plaid shirt, too. I hoped they wouldn't notice.
When Explosions eventually appeared, the crowd applauded loudly. And when they began their first song, the preppy couple in front of us, as if on a timer, began to make out. Both Sam and I agreed this was both agitating and mildly disgusting, as they were kissing each other ever so gently, ever so theatrically, and getting in the way of what was supposed to be our unique experience. But, as they continued in this manner for the next 20 minutes, it occurred to me they, too, were having a unique experience, a private, quotidian moment made public. If Explosions in the Sky enhances the trivial into the epic, then, in the context of the concert—where we all were hoping to validate our private, trivial selves—the individual responses generated by each of us would bump into one another. It wasn't their fault that they were making everyone around them sick.
Meanwhile, guitar lines cascaded and swelled from the stage. Pretty melodies morphed into storms of sound. And eventually Explosions played "Your Hand in Mine," a song I first heard back in the spring of 2007, in San Francisco, as I sat in a park with Sam. She handed me her headphones, imploring me to pay close attention to her new favorite band. I began to listen and she smiled her pretty smile. "Two minutes and 27 seconds," she said, tapping my leg. "That's the best part." I glanced around the park, a drum roll steadily building in my ears. The sun was out and the sky wide open. Sam and I looked at each other, blinking in the shafts of dazzled light. We were unemployed and had plenty of time; it was just a normal day for us. But then again, it was much more.