Local Artist Spotlight: Special Explosion

Local Artist Spotlight, Local Music, Album Reviews
Martin Douglas
Photo courtesy of Topshelf Records

Leading up to Upstream Music Fest + Summit, the regionally focused festival happening in Pioneer Square June 1-3 with over 200 acts, KEXP will highlight a series of local artists every week with a short feature on the artist and a few tracks to start with if you're unfamiliar with their work. This week features Special Explosion, who will be playing Saturday, June 2nd at 10pm.

After listening to their previous releases (including the sensational ep and The Art of Mothering, Special Explosion were poised to carry the torch left by Built to Spill -- something you might have heard before if you’re familiar with the 2012 Sound Off! competitors. But something happened between the buoyant, skyward 2014 release and To Infinity, released late last year on Topshelf Records. Whether it was dissolving personal relationships, the anxiety of encroaching adulthood, or a combination of the two, Special Explosion became the college friend who went home for the summer, had a dreadful time, and came back with a permanently weary facial expression, a wardrobe of darker colors, and a copy of of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.

To Infinity, ironically enough, starts with a wet dream. But instead of the messy lust and euphoria (and the discomfort of the waking moments after) that such a thing usually brings, “Wet Dream” is about safety and security in the throes of infidelity and a relationship that isn’t quite what it seems.

Andy Costello’s hushed, solemn vocals on To Infinity convey the bruised tone of his lyrics, whether they’re wavering whenever they’re raised above a whisper (“Cats”) or trying to sound confident and optimistic while experiencing crippling self-doubt and surveying rock star immortality (“Skeleton”). The dark clouds of depression and heartbreak linger over each song to slight degrees of difference, whether it’s the constant arguments in the dissolution of a relationship (via extended metaphor) on “Gladiator” or on “Your Bed,” where Costello sings, “You only want me at my best times,” only to later follow it up with, “And yeah, I am weak all the time/Not a day goes by where I feel just fine.”

To augment the outward delicacy and powerful, calamitous interiors of the lyrics, To Infinity carries a profound lushness, rife with the interlocking guitars of past efforts (although delivered in a far more melancholy way) and little swaths of tasteful accompaniment. There are swelling strings whizzing by like night traffic on “Gladiator,” a light touch of an keyboard apreggio on closer "So Long," glockenspiels and drum machines open “Going My Way.” A band describing their sound can often be a “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” sort of scenario, Special Explosion’s descriptor of “dreamo” here is perfectly apt.

To Infinity is a bold leap in sound from where the band was from this defining moment, but the itinerant sadness smothering the album makes for a far more powerful emotional statement, sure to provoke a lot of tears shed in drinks and on wristbands when during their Upstream Music Festival set.

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