Stars of the Lid And Their Refinement of the Decline

[Kranky; 2007]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: ambient, minimalist, drone
Others: Eluvium, Harold Budd, Michael Brook’s soundtrack for {Affliction}, Gavin Bryars

Though And Their Refinement of the Decline is a work of art, it isn't a "what's it all about" kind of experience. In a way that few commercial works manage, this double album by Stars Of The Lid swims tetherlessly in the ephemeral logic coming and going. There is no point that it arrives at and no hidden themes to explore. It is the kind of art that those of us who find awe in the most mundane of situations can appreciate. Like waiting in a bus station in a sleepy state of mind and suddenly sharpening up upon noticing that dozing old timer in front of you teetering to his side just slow enough to keep apace with the changing light of dusk. This is massive music, designed not to move mountains, but the ground beneath them. It's the sound of deep sea disintegration. It's the momentousness of accomplishment tempered by an awareness of coming and going.

This restless state shouldn't fit music so perfect for snoozing, but it does. And it is. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that this is a treasure of soporific luxury. So was Tired Sounds, for that matter. Both double albums, however, contain a haunting sort of resignation that could easily change a tuckered fade-out into a night of gazing tenuously at the green light on your stereo. I'd actually be hard pressed to tell the two albums apart. Though there is only one multi-part song this time around, I think it's pretty safe to say that if you liked Tired Sounds, you will like this. If you're unfamiliar with the record, well, you now have an opportunity for a fresh approach to ambient music. Again, it's not music that you have to make sense out of -- much like a subtle film score, it will evoke without telling you how to feel. Call it tomes to an unnamed sadness, to the itinerant spaces of disassociated blankness banking the rises of emotion. As their goofy titles reflect, Wiltzie and McBride's music works outside of signifiers and qualifiers. The best, quietly grandiose music of this sort seems to always have titles that either speak to the composing process or are pointedly tossed off. It seems to mean this is precise musicianship unencumbered by the more confectionery requirements of issuing a product.

The album's artwork could almost serve as a little joke. Say infinity chased nothingness across the spire tops, all the time allowing nothingness to keep a good lead. The seemingly free-floating sounds of Refinement are justifying their loagy ways by letting the mighty void pass undeterred. In other words, their music is as much the warm breeze caressing your face as it is the cold mist enshrouding the sinking Titanic. It is not indifferent, yet it is not attached in any way. Consequently, it becomes a difficult album to embrace. As much as you are finding yourself wooed by lushness again, you are also interacting with something elusive in its lack of viscera. So, consequently, it is a difficult product to recommend beyond calling it a hip sleep aid. But then you get into the issue of what makes this any different from a Pure Moods type of listening experience. This music is not without its meditative qualities, but I'm not sure it would work for guided meditation (as little as I know about that) due to its often stark and sparse feel. The tunes seem less appropriate to healing as they do to, well, declining.

I guess it's sick-bed music for people who didn't ask for it, but here comes your life -- its many entrances and exits and times that seemed almost still, swirling and coiling inside, when all you want to do is sleep it all off. If bitter resignation is no stranger to your life, yet you are still followed by a nagging sense of wonder, this is music that could be oddly satisfying for you. Beyond these rather elliptical qualities, I can confidently say that this is some of the most astonishingly beautiful music being made today. It feels both grounded and foggy, both chilling and soothing. It will fill you up and it will drag you down. As both The Dead Texan (Adam Wiltzie) and McBride's When the Detail Lost Its Freedom have shown in the interim, the two men of Stars Of The Lid know how to do this sort of music in a way that is as nurturing as it is rich in detail.

Most Read