Since their inception a decade ago, This Will Destroy You have consistently moved away from a sound that bore easy comparisons to quintessential post-rock bricklayers (and fellow Texans) Explosions in the Sky towards something far more dense and difficult to pin down. Where the Young Mountain EP and, in particular, their self-titled debut by-and-large followed a sonic template similar to bands like Explosions – introspective guitar noodling contrasted by grand crescendos and emotional outbursts – everything that has come since has taken that tried-and-true formula and obfuscated it through various means. The band’s previous full-length, 2011’s excellent Tunnel Blanket, was the culmination of years of experimentation to the point that one could not be blamed in thinking they were listening to an entirely different band. The production and sound of that album can only be described as cavernous. The softer parts were built more on ambience than melody, and the heavy crescendos felt like they had the weight of a ton of bricks to them. It was downright doom-like, with a thick static haze blanketing every inch of quietude and triumphant pounding.
In that sense, Another Language feels like an appropriate and logical extension of the path set forth by Tunnel Blanket and prior EPs. Distance and isolation are once again front-and-center thematically, though they are now undercut with a tint of wistful nostalgia thanks to the seeming omnipresence of a wobbly analog synth sound that would feel at home at the base of a Boards of Canada track. Opener ‘New Topia’ — perhaps one of the group’s finest tracks to date — makes all of these elements and themes abundantly clear, as the ruminative haze of soft vibraphone and light percussion gives way to a sheer deluge of distorted percussion and bass midway through. The softer and more melodic layers compete for attention as if in a constant struggle to beat down relentless and overwhelming emotion, and the incredible tension that the group and album appear to be setting up is hugely palpable. The title itself, ‘New Topia,’ suggests a conflict between the desire to create something new and perfect and the acknowledgement that one cannot fully escape their own past. This proves to be portentous on a micro and macro level, as Another Language too often feels like a shadow of its own past, and within the album itself struggles to live up to the incredible musical premise that it sets up.
This of course isn’t to say that Another Language is not still a very good album with many great moments. Lead single ‘Dustism’ is a brilliant exercise in patience and emotional depth, swelling gracefully, dropping suddenly to almost nothing, and building back up to something that both feels uplifting but not quite right as there’s a small hint of dissonance and harmonic tension present. The haunting quietude of ‘Serpent Mound,’ ‘The Puritan,’ ‘Mother Opiate,’ and ‘God’s Teeth,’ are equalled by the sheer emotionally crushing climaxes of tracks like ‘War Prayer,’ ‘Invitation,’ and ‘Memory Loss.’ ‘Invitation’ in particular stands out on its own as essentially a track-long climax, with its drums firing in short bursts throughout and building to the point of intentional distortion by the end.
But while Tunnel Blanket truly felt like a sum of its parts — an album that necessitated listening front-to-back in order to appreciate it in all of its subtleties and harshness — Another Language feels more like an album of moments. One cannot be faulted for tuning out at times and essentially waiting for the classic TWDY crush to come at the end of many of these tracks. Nor could one be blamed for wanting to skip through the particularly subdued one-two punch of ‘The Puritan’ and ‘Mother Opiate’ to get to ‘Invitation,’ which, in context of the rest of the back half of the album, actually feels like a bit of an outlier.
There’s plenty of great and emotional stuff happening in all of these tracks, and the use of the analog-style synth is particularly effective throughout, especially in the bookend tracks that first swell to the highest heights (‘New Topia’) then literally fade into incoherent static noise by the album’s end (‘God’s Teeth’). But the moments where it becomes more of a chore to understand it all rather than have it simply feel resonant are what ultimately bring this album down a notch or two from Tunnel Blanket. And though it’s not entirely fair to judge an album harshly based on a band’s prior body of work rather than on its own merits, it is inescapable when that subsequent album feels like it’s meant to be a linear continuation of sound and instead lays flat. Another Language, ultimately, is the work of a mature band that has mastered its own musical language and still shows signs of curiosity and exploration, but it’s not clear at this point in time that they know where they want that exploration to lead them to.
This Will Destroy You’s Another Language gets…