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Alternative & Indie - Released April 2, 2007 | kranky

After the near symphonic exercise of engaging the void that was Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid in 2001, it was hard to believe there was anything left to do. Wrong. Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie emerged from the studio in early 2007 with the equally huge And Their Refinement of the Decline. The notion of symphonic here is, without doubt, still present, but not in any normal way. Over two very differently themed discs, and three LPs, Stars of the Lid engage long conceptual ideas from a place one can only call micro-minimalism. An obsession with drones fading in and out on all kinds of instruments is what takes precedent here, whether that be a string section, a solo cello, harp, trumpet or a children's choir. (Yes, all of them are here, and more.) Don't worry, all this deep fixation with drones and classical music doesn't mess up Stars of the Lid's sense of humor. The titles are still hilarious in places (the set opens with a piece titled "Dungtitled (In A Major)"). The sound of drones is prevalent on disc one, though the drones change and are actually held notes. Whether they are played live or simply articulated and then manipulated by electronics doesn't matter. The feeling of being washed over, being gently pulled under water to someplace where language no longer makes sense, feelings get all folded together and an overwhelming calm takes over -- especially at loud volumes -- as single notes are held by the strings for as long as five minutes. The aforementioned piece is like this, as are "The Evil That Never Arrived," and "Apreludes (In C Major)," which moves through one note for minutes at a time with an ever increasing dynamic and textural array of sounds and instruments and begins to feel like the opening theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet the real bottom line in these pieces, and to a lesser but no less relevant extent, is that these cuts feel like a part of an opening whole that is also at the end of something, like quiet exits from a long-form work, with the feelings of being finished, exhausted, lulled by the lack of energy and motion. It's impossible to say, but when engaging disc two, it feels almost as if it is a mirror image to Gavin Bryars' magnificent "The Sinking of the Titantic" (the second version). Here, where melody dissipates and disappears or never even arrives, as in "The Daughters of Quiet Minds," or the in-and-out of the ether feel in "That Finger on Your Temple Is the Barrel of My Raygun," where actual oceanic and perhaps ship sounds can be heard washing through the mix; and the piece is merely three notes in scale. The sense of drama and restless experimentation are portrayed in back to back pieces ("Humectez la Mouture" and "Tippy's Demise") where on the former a voice in French speaks out of an indescribable series of spaces and noises, and on the latter a cello harmonically plays with the all but absent "orchestra" who have disappeared into the actual feel of the piece rather than remained in its mechanical parts. The set's final cut, "Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface" begins with voices, muted yet telling, washed into the emerging sound, where chords express themselves, shift and change shape, color and dimension, becoming both something more and something less in the process. At over 17 minutes, more instruments are added, they emerge louder and are more "present" but remain under the guise of absence, as that thing that has already been wiped away. The single- and two-note lines that emerge from the slow, turtle-like pace of the track never move toward anything else even though they assert the theme in various dynamic ways on occasions before re-entering the shadow world of sound. Everything here is rounded. There are no edges on either disc, it's all fuzzy and yet brilliant to hear at the same time. It's music of such quiet and devastating power it can silence a room in five minutes without the volume knob on the stereo being manipulated. There are detractors -- or better yet, cynics -- who wonder why, and how, music like this, music that simply is, that evolves and returns to silence over and over again, is even necessary. The answer is simple: because the sound on And Their Refinement of the Decline is the sound of everything already after it has fallen apart. It is not a sound that dares to rebuild anything, speak anything, or declare anything. It simply wants to document what happens when it all goes to hell, and in that space, that quiet space, Stars of the Lid emerges with a sound that is as hopeful as it is funereal. It is simply the sound of "is-ness," something that becomes nothing, only to become something again. And Their Refinement of the Decline is deeply moving. Stars of the Lid doesn't give a damn about any experimental "indie" scene nonsense either. This will appeal to fans of Eno's ambient work (though it speaks volumes louder and yet is gentler), Philip Glass, Morton Feldman, Bryars, Steve Reich and Charlemagne Palestine, but is completely its own bag of sonic tricks. It's an awesome thing, this album, and anyone, virtually anyone who encounters it will be in some way moved by the impure music it contains. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 1, 2001 | kranky

Having always made records that exist at the margins of descriptive language, this project by Austin, Texas' most spaced-out duo, Stars of the Lid, is their most ambitious to date, featuring 11 tracks parceled over two CDs (or three LPs), four of which are multi-part suites. Taking a step further down the road they embarked upon with Avec Laudanum, the duo have expanded the pure space and black hole vistas they offered on Music for Nitrous Oxide and The Ballasted Orchestra to embrace small melodic fragments that seemingly endlessly repeat through minimally varying textures. The effect can either be soothing ("Requiem for Dying Mothers"), hypnotic ("Broken Harbors"), or unsettling ("Austin Texas Mental Hospital"). The trademark analogue guitar/tape cut ups are ever present; what would normally be considered the sound of a guitar is nowhere in aural earshot. Traces of piano, strings, and even horns are layered into the mix, primarily on the second disc on "Mulholland," "Fac 21" (not a reference to an obscure record on the legendary Factory label, but a classroom on the University of Texas campus where Radio, Television and Film classes were taught), and "Piano Aquieu." The final two suits, "Ballad of Distances" and "A Lovesong (For Cubs)," are based on single and double-note piano intros that are heavily treated and meet minimal accompaniment by strings shimmering in the background in haunting melodies and droning ambient backdrops. There is a progression in all the music here, but it is so subtle, so quiet and un-intrusive, the listener would have to pay very careful attention to everything that is happening. More realistic, however, is for those who take pleasure in SOTL's music and inner space explorations -- for this truly is a music of the inner terrain -- to offer themselves little distraction other than a comfortable chair or resting place in order to let this music enter at will, naturally and expand until it takes you over the edge into something resembling sleep, but far more delicious. Despite its more songlike structures, More Tired Songs is actually for those who are tired of songs, period, and are looking for something less, something unspeakably beautiful and determinedly unmentionable in its vast and luxuriant erasure from any musical category. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1996 | kranky

While ambient outfits are not especially prevalent in the United States, Texas' Stars of the Lid have found a niche as an unlikely American drone duo with an impressive discography. Taking in such ambient milestones as Brian Eno's Apollo recording, Stars of the Lid's Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie fashion eight floating gems with touches of industrial noise and movie soundtrack atmospherics. No drums or clanging guitars here, just darkish, elegiac slabs of ethereal sound taking up 12 to 18 minutes at a pop. The overall effect is both calming and provocative. And adding a bit of welcome irony to the somber proceedings, the duo come up with such bluntly perverse titles as "Sun Drugs" and "Fucked Up (3:57 AM)." A bit cheeky? Yes. But the music will find even the most skeptical in a state of modern-age bliss. ~ Stephen Cook
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1997 | kranky

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 1, 2002 | kranky

Avec Laudenum moves at a glacier's pace and, slowly yet surely, calls to mind the glazed eye, vacant trance, and pure (temporary) euphoria of the heavy laudanum user. "The Atomium," a three-part work, takes all of 16 minutes to gradually build from a series of softened drones into the exquisite ambience of an orchestra lulling heaven itself to sleep, only to halt the reverie by (just as gradually) introducing ominous backmasked guitars. Of the other two pieces, "Dust Breeding" has much the same effect and feeling of transcendence, while "I Will Surround You" has slightly more of a Technicolor feel. Reportedly recorded by mail between SotL members Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride, Avec Laudenum is a magnificent piece of minimalist ambience. [Originally released in 1999 by the Belgian Sub Rosa label, the album was reissued in America by Kranky in late 2002.] ~ John Bush
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1997 | kranky

Gravitational Pull..., the second release from Austin, TX's Stars of the Lid, quickly became a favorite among illbient DJs, leading the Kranky label to issue it on CD with an extra track. Even more so than most ambient projects, the Stars create an atmosphere that's akin to a sensory deprivation tank, reducing everything to pulsating waves of sound -- Gravitational Pull... is consistently effective at this, and is even less dense, at points, than some of the group's other releases. ~ Nitsuh Abebe