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Artist: Stars of the Lid                                     Release Date: 2001
Label: Kranky                                                                          Running time: 2hr 1m 2s

Adam Bryan Wiltzie - Sounds and Sounds
Luke Savisky - Photos and Sounds
Sara Nelson - Cellos and Sounds
Brian McBride - Guitars and Sounds
Engineered & Produced by Stars of The Lid

Musical Context :

      This double-disc/3 LP 2001 recording is the fifth offering from the reclusive Austin, TX duo, Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride, aka Stars of the Lid. They began their meanderings through the relatively closed world of true ambient composition with their 1995 Music For Nitrous Oxide. Forgive the abject adjectives as you read - it is a very long ambient record, after all. The indie experimental music people (all seven of them at the time) were generally enthusiastic with these first forays, and all the introvert-enthusiasts, with their Nurse with Wound or Coil records seemed quite taken aback (why were the Texans making such weird music?). Next came, Gravitational Pull Vs The Desire For An Aquatic Life (1996) and soon after the 80 min. the Ballasted Orchestra double LP (1997). SOTL were turning into a credible project for sure.
      Adam Wiltzie was a founder of the now floundered Windsor for the Derby, as well as a former studio-twiddler for Bedhead (ca. the Dark Ages LP, 1996). Brian, on the other hand, has next to no musical training at all (though he seems to sideline in some sort of local audio project call The Pilot Ships) : his experience simply accumulated doing a found sound experimental late night timeslot on a Austin college radio station, "The Dick Fudge Show" on KTSB/KVRX 91.7FM : “I'd basically layer all the quiet sounds I could find. I spent about three years always equipped with a tape recorder in hand. The show used many of these field recordings, environments records, TV/movie samples, and a song or two interlaced in between everything. Eventually I just began recording these collages at home."*
      Their early work still wobbles and bobs a bit - as jettisoned experimentalism for its own sake is bound to sound. With the Ballasted Orchestra and this record however, they make a clear and decisive break, taking a more expressive and classical mode as their model (seems both had fathers who were hi-fi classical music buffs). Asked in an interview why they stick solely to instrumentalist work, Adam replied archly: "When you're trying to pay homage to the sounds of your refrigerator, there's no need for vocals ... music is affective, it's more than just an opinion you have. Opting out of words is a part of that strategy ... at the same time, with all the crappy vocal inspired boogie rock in Austin, it just seemed like the right thing to do." The big influences one might wonder, for this southern US duo? Apparently, Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno, Arvo Part, Labradford, Gorecki and ... Talk Talk. How cool is that? (Do not answer; for some, I suspect, not very) And so this new double-cd, "Tired Sounds" (nod to Brian Wilson?) gets them squarely oriented along these more formal, non-rock lines, with horns, strings, bass, guitar and reams upon reams of boxes, knobs, pedals and consoles. Amen.

What’s it sound like though?

      Quantification is needless badgering when you set to tackle music without words and few actual instruments. This can make for some long musical stretches which can be pretty tough to peg. Allow me then to begin by telling you what kind of electronic music this album is not: A) There is no beat. None. Nada. There are no percussion instruments played anywhere during the two plus hours of this record. If you like a little clever drum-machine or KORG or Kaos pad syncopation, go grab a Mouse on Mars or Autechre record. You will find nary a percussion loop here, nor real drums. A tough proposition for those un-down with the classical, but don`t worry, you`ll live. B) There is no gimmickry. This is not glitch, there are no artful pops, no displaced whirrs, no clever skips or jags - so Oval fans, Microstoria afficionados, friends of Tele:Funken or anyone else in the Markus Popp stable - this here is the big "see ya" ... hardly a shocker though, since ambient work usually precludes the drum by definition. C) There is little feedback - no AMP ten-minute drone, no FSA wall of sound , no Bowery Electric goth-hop beat. D) It is neither cold nor gloomy, two milieus where sadly most ambient artists (being lonely guys, for a large part, twiddling over electronics in the dark) tend to gravitate all too often. "Tired Sounds" is rather organic and forgiving. If you want pathos, in other words, pop on a Vidna Obmana or Lycia disc, or Lull or Scanner if you want bleak and paranoiac (if you can, that is, keep your eyes from rolling back in your head from the sheer, excruciating obviousness of it all). This record is none of those things.
      What one finds, however, is an almost astonishing continuity and mood - unlike recent scattershot releases by outfits like Magnetophone, Aerovane or Mum, who seem to be trying to emulate a half-dozen different styles on each of their records - “Tired Sounds...?establishes its tonal themes, then builds, maintains and develops that atmosphere, for the next two hours. For musical reference a little more accessible, I would compare this to the feel of tracks like Rhubarb, Tree, Parallel Stripes or Match Sticks off Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works II+, though the effect is quite different ... long held synth chords, heavy atmospherics and big empty echoes of nothing where the drum track would usually be. The improvisation going on here sounds much less euro (and hence theory driven) and is more akin to the free form jamming you get from, say, early Tortoise (think "Millions Now Living") - with the important caveat that there is mercifully nothing jazzy or fusion about it. These are vintage keyboards (or retro-software of astounding verisimilitude), dusted off from which ever mid-70s home studio they languished in and sounding remarkably similar to Eno`s Roland gear from Ambient 4: On Land or his Apollo sessions with Lanois - some of the treatments almost sound sampled (track 4 has the same Eno-bubble noises that he injected into Slowdive`s track 'Sing' off of Souvlaki, for example. Sorry I call it bubble sounds, I know nothing technical about music, and even less about the lingo).

Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?

      Seefeel, near the end of their career arc (before Clifford packed up the show completely) did some truly minimal drone for Warp Records, ca. 1995. Lux1 on the Stare-through EP in particular sounds very similar. Windy & Carl did their Consciousness LP on Kranky - so lo and behold there definitely seems to be some acoustical horse-swapping there (sadly, the same cannot be said for their graphic designers, for whomever put the sleeve together for Consciousness should be throttled). The interest SOTL themselves express in Arvo Part (think his 1995 Litany) and Henryk G?ecki (1976, Symphony No. 3) - two heavyweight minimalist classical composers - also leaves them as obvious choices, along with the last (and best) two Talk Talk albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock (you can prolly find them for a buck on vinyl at the next flea market you go to). And the AMP "Bliss Out" double-LP might also to it for you if formless 30min. ambient tracks get you going. The Pilot Ships, The Limits of Painting and Poetry (2000), esp. "The Lazt Swimmer" and "Deluze" sound stripped-down/stacked-up-again fantastic, kinda carnivalesque, but nifty (take a listen at http://www.bluesanct.com/bands/pships/). Finally, I also heartily recommend the Aix Em Klemm record (KRANK 044) which, despite the name has several fantastic tracks in the same vein: and Girl with the Flesh Coloured Crayon may be as close to cowboy ambient as you can get without tipping into parody, SOTL & Labradford together managing to pull together a sound like a gang of John Cage-addled German teens who were plucked from a Rotterdam experimental music school in 1972, listening to nothing but Johnny Cash while in cryogenic slumber, then thawed out in some backroom music studio in Texas and got to work recording. Not convinced by my convolutions?
      Ample samples here : http://www.epitonic.com/artists/starsofthelid.html or http://www.abilnet.com/guitargeek/guitargeek/stars.html.

The Songs:
1. Requiem for Dying Mothers, Pt. 1 - 6:37       ~ Viola and an almost sitar-like drone set up the mood ... somehow you just know you are in for the long-haul ~
2. Requiem for Dying Mothers, Pt. 2 - 7:37       ~ christ these guys have subtlety down to the lint in their pockets ... about a minute and a half in they introduce a sort of backwards keyboard chord to offset the guitar sounds they have been layering up- the moment breaks over like the sun suddenly topping a bank of threatening thunderclouds -or maybe it sounds more like some murky undersea hallucination until the last two minutes - when two cellos are left alone to ground the work for the whining dog we hear in the last thirty seconds, pulling sadly on its own chain ~
3. Down 3 - 5:46       ~The Glove did weird taped TV dialogue over minimalist keyboards, so did AMP on their Sirenes, so did A Silver Mt. Zion on their last record - but none I think managed quite hit the ominous nail on the head held in hands that this piece pulls off ~
4. Austin Texas Mental Hospital, Pt. 1 - 2:48       ~ Lamentations for empty buildings might strike you as a little fey, a little fancy, or frankly, just a little much - but let me say, as someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time in the quiet corners of lonely buildings or even the shells thereof - this is how things sometimes sound down there with your eyes closed ~
5. Austin Texas Mental Hospital, Pt. 2 - 12:18       ~ been thinking with all the thrill jockey and kranky sets that quiet just might be the new loud? thankfully, no. just more quiet please. ~
6. Austin Texas Mental Hospital, Pt. 3 - 5:47       ~ owes more than I think a passing nod to the Eraserhead soundtrack with its industrial whirrs playing faintly in the distance just on the threshold of a listener`s attention, or as is you had just, with a slip of the hand, accidentally redistributed the twinkling ions of some invisible magnetic field2 ~
7. Broken Harbors, Pt. 1 - 3:31       ~- ?.. ...? ~
8. Broken Harbors, Pt. 2 - 6:47       ~ Fantastic soundscape rendering - almost Klaus Schulze or Moebius kind of stuff - distant noises made in the shadows in fog, like distant warning bells offshore at night - not sure who should be notified about the possibility of getting videos made for this stuff - why not go out to your nearest refinery at night, shoot seven minutes of stars and smokestacks, then send me some stills ~
9. Broken Harbors, Pt. 3 - 9:16       ~- ?.. ...? ~
10. Mullholland - 6:49       ~ named after his most recent flick, they are huge David Lynch fans clearly 1 and this tune carries a soul-wracked, mysterious set of chords across a wavering sonic horizon ~
11. The Lonely People (Are Getting Lonelier) - 10:05       ~ we would sleep well to this though and think with visions that tell us how things can change ~
12. Gasfarming - 3:18       ~ the hint of a scratched tape warbles around the edges of this track, along with a single repeated chord, echoing, plaintive and awaiting an answer which, of course, never comes~
13. Piano Aquieu - 10:56       ~ Cluster & Eno did a record together. As far as I know it has been deleted and is near impossible to find now. These eleven minutes come acutely close to rendering the calm, warm minimal piano, like Satie in some stilted reverie, tinkling away in a haze amid a field of long swaying grass ~
14. Fac 21 - 3:08       ~ back with the strings this is some fantastic chamber-pop worthy of being played atop a slag heap framed by any apocalyptic industrial sunset you can imagine - the arrangement is instructively creepy and the echoes build nicely ~
15. Ballad of Distances, Pt. 1 - 3:36       ~ toned-down piano piece lullaby with dirigible-like atmospherics in tow ~
16. Ballad of Distances, Pt. 2 - 3:00       ~ tape-loops, tape-loops, tape-loops... ~
17. A Lovesong (For Cubs) +, Pt. 1 - 6:45       ~ a distinct and distint clarion-call, like any summons as of late, rings through the windy plains of this track about four minutes in, but for who? ... ~
18. A Lovesong (For Cubs) +, Pt. 2 - 8:05       ~ ... and wherefore they go with this echoing blast, this echoing call to arms, they seem to know not ... ~
19. A Lovesong (For Cubs) +, Pt. 3 - 7:45       ~ until they finally establish, with ariel audio acrobatics and their allotted submerging loops, that they have, surely, lost all their mirth... ~

* I actually know the period of which he speaks here, having been a 12-2am college radio dj myself around the same time, ca. 1994-1997. There were always at least two or three of these found sound ambient shows on permanent rotation, with names like "Delirium", "Idle Reels" or "More Like Space," though it seemed at the time rather an elaborate excuse to play two records on top of the other, do eight-track tape loops of your dog and fiddle with a mixing board on live radio. Clearly, having now heard how this can evolve after a few years, I would encourage you to go get yourself a volunteer slot if you're into this sort of music (suppose I owe skeptic`s remorse to a few CKDU folks) ...
+ A pretty silly album, continuity-wise, if Richard was truly trying to do ambient ... think he's prolly taking the piss here with the fans, sadly. His Donkey Rhubarb EP with Cage is ten times the record.
1 Are they Twin Peaks fans? Oh happily yes. Their second record included "Music for Twin Peaks episode 30" (the series only went to 29) and their website features Special Agent Albert Rosenfeld on their News page. Is that a good sign? Yes again. By times dreary like rain spattering against a window all afternoon, by other times abstractly uplifting and close to spiritual, I think they fairly capture some of the themes.2
2 Speaking of Lynch's influence, a good friend and flatmate of mine used to occasionally play the Eraserhead soundtrack along with other records to see what they would sound like together. He also used to turn the TV to a static channel, cover the screen with cardboard, which all but blotted it out but for a narrow strip cut down the centre, and would then turn off all the lights and project the beam onto a wall. If you have never tried this or seen the effect in darkened room, you should give it a shot, esp. if you pick up this record.

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