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Stars of the Lid - The Tired Sounds Of Stars of the Lid

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Artist: Stars of the Lid

Album: The Tired Sounds Of Stars of the Lid

Label: Kranky

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Atlanta is an interesting place, brandishing both the self-reflexive irony of any American city and a certain regional absurdity in matters social and religious. Thanks to a brief career in the food-services industry and its corresponding schedule, I was able to enjoy such phenomena in the context of late night public-access television. Here, one can enjoy the transmission of a camera fixed on a scene of relative pastoral splendor, like a running brook or the rustling of pine needles. The screen is adorned with a digitally produced cross and a quote from the Book of Psalms, all set to the requisite soundtrack of flute and Spanish guitar. And while the medium itself is about as imaginative as my reproduction here, there’s a quiet beauty to the visual mechanics of the whole affair: The scene is static, but infused with the movement of specific elements, arriving nowhere, but moving.

A similar departure point adorns the work of the Austin, Texas, duo Stars of the Lid, whose dense, sprawling ambient excursions create similar paths of melodic juxtaposition to a background of symphonic stasis. With their recent Kranky release, The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, they move further into the nocturnal, unconscious territories that were charted by their work throughout the last decade. For this effort, their means are expanded, adding strings, horns, and pianos to their trademark guitar textures and field recordings. But Stars of the Lid are less interested in a style than a particular aesthetic, carving melodic structures from the established ambient framework of drone forebears John Cale and Tony Conrad. The result, if languid, is immediately accessible, and at moments ethereal.

Tired Sounds begins with “Requiem for Dying Mothers,” which carries the same mood its title would suggest. The suite, in its use of strings and compositional style, is indicative of the album as a whole. Lilting beauty is never in short supply on this record, and yet it’s difficult to imagine a point of entry for the material. Rather than sitting down to work out a central melody for a given piece, Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride seem intent to gather every possible element of sound first: Theme is an afterthought that becomes foreground. Imagine filling every square foot of your living room with rubber balls and then climbing in through the window, lacking any orientation save for that imposed by gravity; beautiful natural patterns can be seen as you tunnel through the synthetic environment. Such patterns resonate throughout Tired Sounds, discernible yet entrenched in the ambient noise.

Tracks flow seamlessly from one to another, and, by doing so, justify the scope and sequence of this fairly sprawling work. To stretch substance over six sides of vinyl is no small task, but Wiltzie and McBridge accomplish it admirably. In fact, I get the impression the duo could have derived nearly the same results from an array of pots, pans and car horns, so effortlessly do they utilize the newly introduced strings of their repertoire. Yet, it’s the stark sequencing of the album’s two piano tracks, “Piano Aquieu” and “Ballad of Distances, part 1,” that stand out against the symphonic backdrop, allowing quiet reckoning in the form of what may well be a Steinway grand submerged in four feet of water.

If ambient music proves anything on an emotional level, it is the undeniable comfort of repetition, courtesy of one’s present familiarity with the preceding moment. Most ambient luminaries, such as Terry Riley and Brian Eno, have proliferated this ethos through singular gestures of epic proportion, whereby entire albums are comprised of a solitary, modulating drone, or a series of intertwining synth loops. By comparison, Stars of the Lid have left their own mark on the genre, finding cohesion in a more incremental manner. That there is such familiarity in a work that drifts constantly from beginning to end speaks to the dexterity of its very conception. The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid is a record committed to the present experience of its own duration, but moves beyond this moment with the atmosphere it establishes.

By Tom Roberts

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