Stars of the Lid, a scrupulous Texas-based duo renowned for crafting lengthy ambient-drone epics, seemed to disappear completely after their seventh album. This disappearance was to everyone’s disappointment; especially considering that that aforementioned seventh album also doubled as Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride’s most formidable and impressive release of their then-eight-year history. Lasting two hours, yet feeling like one, The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid
was a deliberate and protracted monster that featured long, enveloping pieces that beautifully seemed to blossom as you listened. The album didn’t particularly feel conclusive--it felt as if the Lid were just readying themselves for an even greater statement--yet the hiatus was less than encouraging. Six years passed.
Finally, to everyone’s (except for some certain Sputnik moderators) relief, And Their Refinement of the Decline
appeared in 2007, and it just didn’t meet expectations, it fuc
kin’ exceeded them. And Their Refinement of the Decline
is just as deliberate and sprawling as anything else these guys have ever done, yet it’s also softer, more rounded, and completely refined (cough): there isn’t any fat here, there’s nothing that could be trimmed off. This album is a swirl of pure emotions and grandiosity, but is never overbearing, never feeling like anything more than your own personal score. Thus, it’s completely brilliant.
One aspect of And Their Refinement of the Decline
that’s almost instantly notable is how much less guitar there is, and how much more natural the album sounds compared to anything else these guys have ever accomplished. Part of this is contributed to the inclusion of some actual classical instruments, which indeed give what’s usually computer-generated a more crisp feel, but this feel is more contributed to the spacious music. Never before has The Lid worked with simple silence before to such avail, as previous albums such as Music for Nitrous Oxide
instead let those drones and that ambience envelop every possible space on a track. Refinement
’s pieces instead seem to throb, alternating from the depths of silence to the drone of a violin or piano, rebuilding each massive tone or drone or whatever back up over and over again. It simply feels large, colossal almost, and it feels real, as in fuck
Due to less actual drones, it’s easy to believe that Refinement
could sound almost stripped down, but closer listens prove its complexity. Certain perfections, such as the alternating volume of the swell of strings in “Even If you’re Never Awake” and the build-up of icy tones and even some scraggly feedback in “That Finger on Your Temple Is the Barrel of My Raygun”, take time to realize and are all the more special and breathtaking when you do. However, don’t be mistaken that Refinement
as an album of post-rock-ish build-ups and climaxes, as these pieces refuse to be confined to something so obvious. These songs take cues not from Mogwai and Tortoise, but Arvo Part and Eno, as well as being revolutionaries in their own right: there’s never been a song like “Humectes La Mouture” before, being a swirl of oddly sultry French dialogue, simple yet powerful piano lines that are given space to linger and drone, and some strings utilized perfectly to flesh everything out. The track collapses on itself at various points, lingering too long into an awkward silence before picking itself back up again with a drone that’s stronger than before, before finally drifting off into simple nothingness at the track’s end, never making a cinematic statement, just simply being there
, just being an atmosphere, but being more than just that, all at the same time, without any pretention. It’s certainly a highlight.
Almost every ambient album gives off a certain mood, some are even prominently about mood, and Refinement
doesn’t make any attempt to conceal this. Most of Refinement
is reasonably optimistic, like something you’d imagine hearing when you’re watching a sunset, but Refinement
doesn’t subscribe to just one theme: there’s just as many bipolar moments in here as there are grounded ones. “Tippy’s Demise”, for instance, opens as a darker, sadder piece before melting away into a happier, brighter one, yet without completely shedding its darker parts away: it’s a metaphor for almost everything in just eight minutes. Other tracks are cold and lonely, such as the three-minute “The Mouthchew”, and some are warm and lonely, like the nightly “Don’t Bother They’re Here”, which transforms from a simple keyboard-driven piece of James or Eno tradition into an atmospheric display of strings and pianos; the track doubles as a sweet homage to the Lid’s influencers.
closes on what may be the greatest song produced yet in this century, yet I doubt too many are ready to accept something named “December Hunting for Vegetarian Fu
ckface” as something great. But it is: it’s an amalgamation of everything this band’s accomplished in the past decade-and-a-half, including the all-encompassing drones of Tired Sounds
and a heady mixture of electric and acoustic instruments that are composed to the strictest precision. Build-ups also make an appearance here: the middle especially swells with emotional vigor. And it’s definitely an emotional work, one that seems to be sad and optimistic and joyful at the same time, and because of this, its eighteen minutes pass without a single dull moment. It’s the perfect way to close an album that’s as equally perfect, an album that’s also lengthy and sort of hard to completely take in but is totally worth the effort, and will pay off in ridiculously large dividends when finished. Don’t dismiss this as boring or tedious or cold or sterile, because it’s anything but, and if you are dismissing this as such, than you’re either completely ignorant, or you’re simply not listening close enough. Listen closer.