Metal Machine Muzak
I waited for something to happen. I sat there and waited patiently. I mean, if you’re going to have a two CD/three LP set, something’s gotta happen in there. I remember I did a few things during that time. The crossword puzzle, the laundry, made dinner. My two friends Jane Craughl and Butterfly Decal (she claims the moniker is more Warholian than something that escaped from the ‘70s; I know what it actually refers to) and sat around and talked. They listened, too.
“What’s that?” asked Jane.
“Ah. It’s this group called Stars of the Lid. I’ve been listening to this stuff all day,” I replied.
“Sounds kinda . . . well, not even weird, even. Just kinda . . . there, I guess,” added Butterfly.
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. But I almost wish it were a more Nurse With Wound kind of thing if they’re gonna just be doing that sort of playing around.”
We sat and listened some more. Eventually, Jane and Butterfly had to go, leaving me to my dinner and the rest of the album. I’m still pondering what it was I listened to. Stars of the Lid seem to like electronic things. They like far away sounding things, too. The first two tracks here, “Requiem for Dying Mothers, parts 1 and 2” ooze out of the speakers slower than a snail in molasses. There are some harmonics plucked on a gutiar, a violin, and some kind of strange droning that may or may not be backwards providing the main background in the first part. In part 2, it’s a bit more of the same. Slow, brooding synth sounds weaving in and out with a cello and violin. It’s an idea for a tune, though nothing really forms in either track, the both of which take approximately 14 minutes to listen to.
After that is “down 3” that features some far away piano notes being plunked away (slowly again) somewhere in the far off corners of some freaky abandoned house. Wait, that’s my interpretation, the house . . . strange. The piano is mixed in with what sounds like bits of a phone conversation, but it’s so low in the mix that it’s rather hard to tell. In the middle, there’s a car beeping and then some warm synth tones again. I’m assuming it’s a synth—everything on this album is so vague that you can’t quite fully grasp what the sounds may or may not be.
“Austin Texas Mental Hospital parts 1- 3” are next. Opening with some more droning strings and synths, or maybe synth strings in the first part, no wait, make that the second part as well (together, these two formless pieces clock in at nearly 20 minutes), part 3 concludes the piece with about six minutes of what sounds like wine glasses being played mixed with the occasional . . . synth burp or wind chime, or, jeez . . . I seriously still don’t know after all this time. It’s all so very just barely there. I do know that the first disc closes with “Broken Harbors parts 1-3” which again mainly features a warm sounding synth pad upon which various notes are struck and slowly pushed up in volume.
So where does the second disc take us? Well, with fewer extended pieces, I was hoping for a wider range of sounds, but this is not the case. Right off the bat, “Mullholland” is another droning synth piece that goes nowhere in about seven minutes. You may think I’m cheating the review here, but I’m honestly not. So many of the tunes here are nothing but plodding excursions into a small amount of notes played on a warm sounding synth for far longer than need be.
So plays out most of the second disc in the same way. “Ballad of Distances parts 1 and 2” sound like the ambient type of music that formed most of the soundtrack to Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape. I should know; I have that album. The second part features some more backwards loops (when Stars of the Lid run out of droning ideas, they usually just play their tapes backwards) that are as formless as anything else that has happened on this album. The whole work concludes with “A love song (for cubs) parts 1-3”. You guessed it. More droning. Tip to the band: you don’t have to constantly take one boring idea and divide it up into three extended sections. Three minutes of any of these “songs” is enough.
The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid is an apt title. It tires you out, makes you feel like you just awakened from either a week-long nap or a coma, as you tend to lose track of time when attempting to sit through it all. I mentioned the great Nurse With Wound earlier. I do wish this album was more along the lines of NWW’s many excursions that often take random sounds, found noises and whatnot and create compelling works that beg to be be heard again and again. Such is not the case here. This stuff is beyond ambient. This is more like . . . the most boring album I’ve ever heard in my life, and I like a lot of weird stuff that my friends usually can’t fathom. But this one could have easily been completed in two five-minute songs. The fact that it was spread over two discs is mind boggling. So save your sanity and let Stars of the Lid put themselves to sleep.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.