Stars of the Lid – and Their Refinement of the Decline (2007, Kranky Records)

 

“It’s your own personal cinema, located between your eye and eyelid.” – Brian McBride on the meaning of “the lid” in an interview with Maelstrom.

I could not write a review on this blog without mentioning one of the quintessential ambient albums of this millenium. I still remembering discovering Stars of the Lid on the Internet radio station Drone Zone, and buying this album the night before marching band championships on eMusic. Most people do not appreciate drone and ambient music simply because they find it too slow or too boring. However, Stars of the Lid, in my opinion, is one of those bands who can find a way to make drone and ambient music more dynamic and interesting, and not let it get on the boring side.

Stars of the Lid is the duo of Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie. They both met at a University of Texas radio station, leading many people to think that they come from Texas, as some of their song titles reference places in Texas (such as “Austin Mental Hospital” from their 2001 double album “Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid”). However, this is a misconception, as currently, Adam lives in Brussels, Belgium, and Brian lives in Los Angeles, CA. However, even their distance from each other geographically does not change the fact that their music sounds so focused, as if both of them were in the same room together. They’ve been recording music since 1993, but this latest double album redefines the Stars sound more than ever.

Droning, effects-treated guitars, piano, strings, and horns dominate this record. There are no beats at all throughout the album. None whatsoever, which makes the music move at its own dynamic pace, whether it sounds at once focused, or it suddenly includes slips in the rhythms, creating volume swells, feedback, or silence. Also, field recordings and samples can be found in the soundscapes as well. All of these elements, along with the textured arrangements that the duo write, add up to create beautifully layered and emotional soundscapes. Whether you play in the background or listen to it in the foreground, the soundscapes will without a doubt shape the mood of the room that you’re sitting in, as well as the mood of your mind.

Most of the pieces last 3 to 5 minutes long. 4 pieces on the album last from 8 to 13 minutes, while 1 piece runs under 2 minutes long. However, the last track of this double album, “December Hunting for Vegetarian F***face”, lasts for a mammoth 18 minutes. It is also one of my personal favorites on the album. This is a classic drone piece where the first minute has field recordings, a few instruments come in with some chords, and then for the rest of the track, instruments layer one after another on the same chord, creating dynamics throughout the piece. At the end, some instruments solo, and then the album ends. But of course, the rest of the album has brilliant moments as well.

Whether you’re a fan of drone or ambient music, just getting into the genre, or hate it completely, you should get this album anyway. It’s great mood music, and is just overall a beautiful album. It is unlike most of the ambient albums on the market today, and until the next Stars of the Lid album comes out, it’s highly unlikely that there will be another album quite like this. Just utterly uplifting and beautiful.

Album: and Their Refinement of the Decline

Artist: Stars of the Lid

Genre: Ambient/Drone

Released 2007 by Kranky Records

Available at major retailers!

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