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Stars of the Lid - Avec Laudenum

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Artist: Stars of the Lid

Album: Avec Laudenum

Label: Kranky

Review date: Sep. 30, 2002

Opiated Sounds of the Stars

Is it possible to record an album which is both fascinating and boring? In Star of the Lid’s case, perhaps so. Bear in mind that laudanum – for some reason spelled 'laudenum' in the title – was used at the turn of the century in pharmaceutical preparations to calm colicky children and help them sleep. The tincture of opium was wildly popular in Britain and then spread to America; writers such as Coleridge, Shelley, and Poe were addicts.

As a soundtrack to an opiate binge, Avec Laudenum is ideally suited. Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride’s slow drones almost breathe, particularly "The Atomium, part two", which swells and ebbs like a sonic tide. Extremely simple, its nearly-unchanging sound would also be appropriate background music for reading any of the abovementioned authors. As foreground listening, however, it may be a different matter; depending on your patience and attention span, you may find yourself wishing for more development.

Obviously, though, development is not intended to happen quickly in this music. Nothing is intended to happen quickly. But Stars of the Lid approach their droning world of sound with a keen compositional sense that successfully differentiates them from many other artists who, on the face of it, seem similar. Little touches like the chiming sounds during "The Atomium, part three" make all the difference. And while it may seem at first that nothing happens during these songs, in fact there is activity, merely at a very low level that may not be clear on initial listens.

Nonetheless, there are still many moments when, if I close my eyes while listening and let my imagination take flight, all I see is the inside of a planetarium, or a "Nova" science-fiction special. Some of this can easily become mere planetarium soundtrack. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it indicates an occasonal lack of character.

Aside from those moments, there's a lot of beautiful soundscape here which, when turned up loud enough, can envelope you in a blanket of sonic glow. Drones reverberate and textures overlap to create notable overtones and tonal colors, rather like layers of paint creating new colors when they overlap one another.

This five-track EP was originally released by Sub Rosa in Belgium in 2000, recorded via mail collaboration between Wiltzie and McBride. Using guitars, keyboards, and samplers, they crafted a collection of pieces that still stand, despite occasional monotony, as some of the best pure drone out there.

By Mason Jones

Other Reviews of Stars of the Lid

The Tired Sounds Of Stars of the Lid

Music for Nitrous Oxide

And Their Refinement of the Decline

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