[eDebate] Stars of the Lid - debate drone legend McBride

Josh Hoe jbhdb8
Wed May 2 13:31:12 CDT 2007


Congrats to B Mc B - nice review!

Stars of the Lid
And Their Refinement of the Decline
[Kranky; 2007]
Rating: 8.6


http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/42058-and-their-refinement-of-the-decline

Drone legends Stars of the Lid find their music drifting toward this
rarefied place on their first album after an almost six-year absence. On
first listen, *And Their Refinement of the Decline *seems a continuation of
its beloved precursor, 2001's *The Tired Sounds of...* It is again a double
CD with about two hours of music; it uses a similar palette of violin,
cello, and Stuart Dempster-inspired horns to augment the electronically
generated drones. Song titles again refer to brain chemistry ("Dopamine
Clouds Over Craven Cottage"), altered states ("Another Ballad for Heavy
Lids"), and the nuts and bolts of the music's creation (Apreludes (in C
sharp major)"). And yet, upon putting on *Tired Sounds of...* again for
comparison, I see Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride have actually come some
distance in the last half-decade. And the place they're moving to is
starker, quieter, somehow even more subtle, where the tiniest amount of
sound information is put upon to do the greatest amount of work. Where *Tired
Sounds of...* sounded genteel and stately next to the raw four-track
feedback fests they'd started with ("Tape Hiss Makes Me Happy" summed up
their debut nicely), it now sounds about halfway between their genesis and
this album; "refinement" turns out to be the perfect word.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that there's less discernible
guitar here. The acoustic instruments once served as foils to the channeled
electricity, but now they've taken center stage, and the horns and strings
are often used in a curious way. Rather than being stretched out to push
against silence with drone music proper, on tracks like "Dungtitled (in A
Major)" and "The Evil that Never Arrived", flugelhorn, cello, and violin are
used in short, slowly decaying bursts, keeping skeletal tunes aloft by
bumping them with a chord every few seconds. The added space between the
notes makes the pieces seem less forward and pervasive, like they might
vanish into the air at any moment. It also cuts the drama and leaves the
music more open to interpretation.

While SOTL will always be tagged as "cinematic," the music here rarely
leads. You get the sense that this it could be used to color a wide array of
images. The brief "Hiberner Toujours" on the second disc is a three-note
phrase played on a cello with an intense vibrato and heavy reverb, first
alone, then doubled, with muted electronic treatments lurking just behind. I
could just as easily see it soundtracking a morning-after newsreel of a WWII
firebombing or a stop-motion blooming of a flower. And then "Humectez La
Mouture" extends an idea developed by the sorely missed Labradford and
perfected by the Books: A deceptively simple and spacious bit of music with
a neutral emotional cast is presented without additional cues and allowed to
live or die on its own. Here SOTL take a couple of piano chords lightly
kissed with electronics and let the progression play with small bits of
shading, including what sounds like manipulated pedal steel and the dialog
track from a French film. It doesn't "go" anywhere, really, and it's hard to
say what it projects; the music could be crushingly sad, lightly
melancholic, or even uplifting, depending on the state of mind of the
hearer. It becomes a sound divorced from intention and its ambiguity is its
strength.

This stripping down and moving away from easily definable mood makes *And
Their Refinement of the Decline *a bit harder to grasp initially than any
previous SOTL record. The less pronounced changes and more sparing use of
dynamic range means that the music can easily slip into the background when
something else requires attention. That's par for the course with ambient
music, of course, but I get the sense this music is shortchanged by being
functional. There's too much focus on the careful layering of sounds, and
too many small but still important tweaks happening from moment to moment to
let everything slide by in an undifferentiated blob of sound.

It's the rare moment when SOTL tip their hand and let more expressionistic
feelings seep into the music that you understand how well the album works as
a whole. The brilliant "Even if You're Never Awake (Deuxi?me)" is one such
place, as its surges of strings are gradually cut with curled shavings of
backward guitar, and some almost sub-sonic bass halfway through its 9
minutes announces an even wearier turn into the lament's final section. It
"develops" in the conventional sense, as does "December Hunting for
Vegetarian Fuckface", the album's final track.

After almost two hours we arrive at perhaps the most playful title ever from
a band known for playful titles, and also what could be SOTL's defining
statement. "December Hunting" is like the band's entire history playing out
in a single piece, all the tensions in their music-- acoustic vs. electric,
cryptic vs. obvious, joyous vs. sorrowful-- are articulated and probed in 17
heavenly minutes of drone without a tedious moment. It's the final and
greatest example of that special thing that happens, with all due respect to
their fine solo material, only when these two get together.
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