Review Summary: A sprawling 80 minutes of ambient music by Stars of the Lid. Need I say more?
Ambient music. Oh, what a divisive and controversial genre. While some find it to be captivating and enjoyable, others find it boring, a refuge for "talentless hacks" who couldn't play "real" music. I fall into the former camp, and Stars of the Lid is a great example as to why I do. Their floating, guitar-based drones are masterfully done, full of haunting beauty that seems to meander off into perpetuity. On The Ballasted Orchestra
, Stars of the Lid (made up of Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride) add in some other instruments to their minimally ambient aesthetic while still keeping it simple. Complex music this is not. If you're looking for an hour-and-a-half thrill ride, look elsewhere. This is pretty much the exact opposite, a comedown of epic proportions that asks you to daydream or even sleep. After all, Stars of the Lid is all about "your own personal cinema, located between your eye and eyelid".
The Ballasted Orchestra
spans nearly 80 minutes, and while it is separated into tracks, the entire thing ebbs and flows like one big movement. Each piece segues into the next, allowing for a seamless ambient listen that encourages wandering thoughts and heavy eyelids. Whether it be the eerie drones of "***ed Up (3:57 AM)" or the blissful, slow-motion melodies of "Arch Song", Stars of the Lid knows it's stuff. There really isn't a bad track on the album, but some seem to overstay their welcome.
This is the one problem I have with The Ballasted Orchestra
. Long, slow-developing songs don't bother me, but some of the pieces present unfurl a little bit too slow
. This can cause the album to drag at times, with songs like "Taphead" never seeming to really get going, even for an ambient album. While I'm sure Stars of the Lid intended for these songs to represent dynamic peaks and valleys, some excess fat could've been trimmed. I'm not asking for too much to be cut off, just a tad to make the entire thing more palatable. This would make The Ballasted Orchestra
easier to take in as a whole while still retaining its sprawling atmosphere.
Aside from that one complaint, there isn't too much wrong with this album. Though it does lack some of the refinement found in Stars of the Lid's later work (pun intended), it still packs some slight soundscapes that are relaxing and fluid. There's movement here, even if it doesn't seem (or sound) like it. Just let yourself move with this album, and I think you'll find that you'll enjoy the results.