Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stars of the Lid, And Their Refinement of The Decline



Download: Stars of the Lid - "Humectez La Mouture"
Download: Stars of the Lid - "Tippy's Demise"
Download: Stars of the Lid - "Dungtitled (In A Major)"

Stars of the Lid
And Their Refinement Of The Decline (Kranky)
Grade: C+

My girlfriend doesn't like ambient music. Or, more accurately, music that experiments with a lot of soundscapes (i.e., Sigur Ros, Slowdive, and other bands who don't fall under the "ambient " category but, at the same time, rely heavily on ambience to create a certain mood. Mainly, a mood that is conducive to a lot of opium and/or pot use). Her complaint, as I understand it, is that there just isn't enough muscle to the songs. Ambience is all well and good, but bring some of the rock along as well. Otherwise, it'll just get boring.

Needless to say, I did my listening of Stars of the Lid's first album in six years, the two-disc, two-hour And Their Refinement on The Decline on my own damn time. This is because Stars of the Lid are so ambient and soundscapey that they make shoegazer bands like Slowdive look like Black Sabbath by comparison.

Their are some beautiful moments on And Their Refinement Of The Decline, particularly at the ends of each disc, but in order to get to them you have to sit through about 40 minutes of music that sounds like it was composed by your younger brother screwing around with the volume button on a Casio. I don't think I've encountered this much swelling since I was diagnosed with Orbital Celluitis (look it up) in first grade.

Disc one begins with "Dungtitled (In A Major)," a five-minute piece that starts with horns and segues beautifully into a crescendoing string section. All of the instruments hold onto the same chord for what seems like an eternity, each one gradually fading in and out, carefully adding their own shimmering presence in order to form a subtle and satisfying climax.

And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. What starts out as a nifty discovery listening session for the listener (the multitude of instruments on this record is truly impressive) slowly, and I mean sllllooooowwwwwwwllllly, becomes the perfunctory audio equivalent of Where's Waldo?

As you may have guessed, And Their Refinement Of The Decline is so engrossed with its own subtlety that it forgets to make the tracks distinguishable from one another. I know that the term "sonic wallpaper" has been used to derogatively describe pop music in the past, but here, the term applies itself perfectly.

Still, all is not lost. As I said before, there are a few absolutely beautiful, wonderfully cinematic, moments here and they come at the end of each disc. "Humectez La Moutre" recalls Air's work scoring The Virgin Suicides , and "Tippy's Demise" could have fit perfectly with Clint Mansell/Mogwai's work on The Fountain . However, a few undeniable highlights do not excuse a whole lot of tedious listening. Maybe that's the point - that in order to get to the finer moments of life, and in music, you have to work your way through the dull ones. If so, fine.

But do I really need two-discs and two-hours of Stars of the Lid to tell me that?

No. I don't.

(Jonathan Graef)

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