This is the sort of album I would like playing in the isolation tank I’ll never be in because I’m claustrophobic. I’m also afraid of small talk, but that has nothing to with this record.
There are a couple of ways to approach something like this, though neither of them seems very appealing to read. I could break it down to the instruments played and the sounds they produce, giving you a stripped down version of a review. That would be dumping the EP in your lap, like so much spare stir-fry, and expecting you to piece it together with by your own lights. Then, of course, I could try what I call the “peeing in the snow” kind of review whereby I take something artsy and minimalist and project/interpret all kinds of meaning, which could be accurate, or it could be just a way of being a show pony on someone else’s blank canvas. Not that I could impress anyone. I have a hopelessly dirty mind, and if left to my own devices I usually think that most things are about soccer locker rooms.
There’s ambience and there’s anesthesia. I tend to divvy up ambient techno into two camps: after-party and pre-coma. In the first group are all the pop and trip-hop bands designed to make the slow wean off of expensive designer drugs take place on a placid keel with beats best enjoyed on an enveloping sofa. In the second grouping, bands like Boards of Canada, Main, and LaBradford seem to be mining the dark water catacombs of the unconscious, producing sounds that are vast and chilling. Stars of the Lid, drone architects and former Texans (now in Brussels and Chicago), fall squarely into the latter vein of electronic experimentation.
“The Atomium” is broken up in into three parts evoking, I suppose, the movements of a piece of classical music. Stars of the Lid’s two members, Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie, seem to have a knack for creating eerie atmospheric stretches. “The Atomium” is largely made up of concentric waves of feedback and sampling that give the effect of fog dissipating into nothingness. Didn’t I say I was going to avoid such pretension? Sorry, can’t help it. I was listening to this song one night when one of my friends came over. I told him that I loved it, but that it made me feel almost animal. Now, I understand that I am an animal, but what I meant was that it was interesting that a band could use modern technology to create a sound so primal. Dr. Barbara Kisilevsky and her colleagues in Queen’s School of Nursing have discovered that fetuses can hear at thirty weeks which makes me wonder if their sonic world is something akin to Stars of the Lid, an embedded sense of cyclic rhythm intermittently interrupted by the muffled distance of the world outside.
“Dust Breeding”, a title that sounds like what one of their critics might accuse them of, creates the same sort of desolate wind tunnel effect of the preceding track. At this point, I realized that the Stars of the Lid reminded me of one of two of my all time favorite bands, Bowery Electric and Bark Psychosis. While both of those bands adhered much more strongly to traditional song structures, beats, and vocals, Stars of the Lid pares down their soundscape mantras to a sparse, desolate core. If you’re looking for melody or need some sense of a human imprint, this probably isn’t the music you’re going to want to go out and buy. In fact, the final song “I Will Surround You” sounded to me like capturing the sound of a breeze soaking through the cracks of an old house and then looping it for several minutes. Stars of the Lid spill patterns and ebbing periphery, but there’s only the remotest connection to what you would normally call songs. In fact, if there was anything that bugged me about the album, it was the titles that gave off the Patrician vibe of naming installation art pieces at the Metropolitian. I mean, if you’re going to throw out percussion, lyrics and song structure, how crucial can it be to inform a listener that “Dust Breeding” is playing?
Despite all my grousing in the beginning, I completely see the beauty in this work. Although spelled differently (alternate spelling perhaps?), the title Avec Laudenum made me think of the opium derivative Laudanum that Victorians gobbled down to take that edge off their chastity. After all, what problem can’t be temporarily shut up with a well-packaged heroin cousin? Much of this album has the feel of checking out into some otherworldly state, whether through the studied intensiveness of a monk or the various shortcuts the rest of take to get a little transcendence in our lives. So if you’re in the market for a feather’s drop into wombed-out bliss, this is perfect winter soundtrack for your drifting disembodiment.
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