Stars of the Lid
Per Aspera Ad Astra


4.0
excellent

Review

by Andrew H. EMERITUS
March 19th, 2009 | 14 replies


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: 20th century classical mixes with ambient music.

As far as ambient music goes, few artists can claim to be as varied, innovative and consistently solid as Texas duo Stars of the Lid. Per Aspera Ad Astra is group's fourth LP and a more simple affair than the mammoth 3 LP modern classical masterpieces they would go on to compose in the 21st century. That's not to say that it isn't distinctive; in fact Per Aspera Ad Astra remains one of the group's most distinctive works to date.

Per Aspera Ad Astra is, at its core, a collaboration between Stars of the Lid and artist Jon McCafferty (the guy who designed the cover of R.E.M.'s Green). SotL surrounded themselves with McCafferty's work while writing the album and even included samples of him painting. McCafferty then designed the sleeve art after having listened to the album. While the musical and visual aspects of Per Aspera Ad Astra are integrated somewhat, it's perhaps not to the extent suggested by the aforementioned process. Per Aspera Ad Astra is a Stars of the Lid release through and through, samples or otherwise. Nevertheless, it's a unique presence in the SotL discography, as are all of their releases.

The music of Per Aspera Ad Astra comprises two suites made up of three movements each. Though the record certainly has its own feel and identity within the SotL oeuvre, the majority of the album relies on what SotL are best known for; ambient drones with shimmering textures and snippets of melody woven throughout. Instrumentally, the balance between synthesisers and more traditional instruments creates such a cohesive sound that it becomes difficult to determine which instruments are playing which parts. Though Per Aspera Ad Astra certainly feels like a more polished effort than earlier works, the subtle hints of guitar feedback and the field recordings of city nightlife that are scattered throughout cause each composition to feel more alive; as if it's breathing along with the listener.

If the compositions of Per Aspera Ad Astra feel like free-form pieces, it's only because of their subtlety and minimalism. The structured nature of each piece becomes apparent only on repeated and careful examinations. “Anchor States Pt. 2”, for example, opens with a swelling major third pattern that eventually mutates into a bass-heavy middle section. The middle section keeps the piece interesting by varying the octaves and instruments used to express a very small handful of notes, only to make its way back to the original major third pattern of the song's first section. “Anchor States Pt. 1” is a track driven entirely by a string section and is far more noticeably repetitive due to the more active nature of its instrumentation. While it certainly feels abrupt in comparison to the other pieces on the album, it's also the most immediately beautiful track here; more along the lines of modern composer Max Richter than any earlier SotL pieces.

Per Aspera Ad Astra is certainly a subtle record, but it's also one that can accommodate highly varied levels of listening. It's not the lo-fi, rough-around-the-edges sound that characterises early SotL releases, nor does it have the lush, modern classical feel of And Their Refinement of the Decline. To say that it's somewhere in between is partially correct, but like each and every SotL release, it's a beautiful and singular moment in the band's discography. Not grandiose, but warm and organic; one of the band's most succinct and very best releases.



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user ratings (41)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
kitsch
March 19th 2009


5107 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

sotl are one of my favorite groups. its good to see theyre getting some love around here. i remember a few years ago zebra bashed ..and their refinement, which is probably the greatest thing theyve ever produced.

gaslightanthem
March 19th 2009


5209 Comments


zebra is a fool so it doesn't matter

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
March 19th 2009


4927 Comments


I should probably get this

taylormemer
March 19th 2009


4953 Comments


Yeah, as should I.

NortherlyNanook
March 19th 2009


1285 Comments


have not heard this one yet, so i guess i should

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 19th 2009


4461 Comments


hmm, I like this group, they're excellent chill out music. Will check this out, nice review.

Ps. NortherlyNanook, is your name by chance a reference to the film Nanook of the North? If so, Robert Flarehty ftw.

cbmartinez
March 19th 2009


2525 Comments


looking for a place to start with this band, would this album be good?

joshuatree
Emeritus
March 19th 2009


3742 Comments


band is great

NortherlyNanook
March 19th 2009


1285 Comments


Ps. NortherlyNanook, is your name by chance a reference to the film Nanook of the North? If so, Robert Flarehty ftw.


Yeah, man. I saw/liked the film when I was a lot younger and started using it as a username for other stuff a while ago, and I've just stuck with it. Good catch.

looking for a place to start with this band, would this album be good?

Their best is And Their Refinement Of The Decline, and it isn't too difficult to get into, so I'd go with that. EDIT: I actually don't know how this stands up to it, though, but just get ...Refinement...

This Message Edited On 03.19.09

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 19th 2009


4461 Comments


sweet, I haven't seen that film, but we watched Louisiana Story in film class. Flaherety sucks at telling a story but he's real good with a camera.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
March 19th 2009


2125 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

looking for a place to start with this band, would this album be good?


I'd say it's as good as any. The music on And Their Refinement and The Tired Sounds Of is more accessible but those albums are also really really long. I know you're already into Sunn O))) and stuff, so the minimalism of this album shouldn't be an issue. Really, you can't go wrong with any of those three.

natey
March 19th 2009


4170 Comments


My theory professor always bitches at us for calling anything other then stuff from the classical period classical. I think I'm going to get on his case about it because that's ignoring part of its definition. Nice review and I'll get this.

cbmartinez
March 20th 2009


2525 Comments


I'd say it's as good as any. The music on And Their Refinement and The Tired Sounds Of is more accessible but those albums are also really really long. I know you're already into Sunn O))) and stuff, so the minimalism of this album shouldn't be an issue. Really, you can't go wrong with any of those three.


thanks andrew, will report back with my thoughts

Essence
March 30th 2009


3595 Comments


Will get this.



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