A layered, coddling dreamscape.
Pennsylvania’s Stargazer Lilies are a self-described shoegaze band formed by singer/bassist Kim Field and multi-instrumentalist John Cep. Field and Cep have disbanded their previous project, Soundpool, to map out new territories of murky, dreamy, layered soundscapes. There is plenty going on in these new songs, but there are few rough edges; this is the sonic equivalent of floating in a Percocet-induced haze. The band describe their music as occupying a “cosmic ambient arena”, and that sounds just about right. It’s lousy music to put on while doing housework, but great for, say, staring out the window at the snow, which is what I’ve been doing for the past half hour instead of writing this review.
Opening track “We Are the Dreamers” establishes the sonic template: Field’s breathy vocals mix in and out of multiple layers of guitars, bass, and keyboards, with just enough understated percussion to keep things from shuddering to a halt. This is the formula that will be repeated throughout the album, with enough variations to keep things interesting but nothing untoward to jar the listener out of their cocoon. “Undone” unfolds for five minutes on a bed of crooning-whale-sounding guitar drones, while “Endless Days” bumps along with a heartbeat-throbbing drum beat and a wash of shimmering synth and gauzy guitar distortion.
Tempos tend to be slow-to-middling and song structures contain the usual bits and pieces – verse and chorus and bridge and so forth – but there is very little here that any listener will sing along to. Field has a lovely, ethereal voice, but nothing here could be described as remotely catchy. These tunes wrap around the listener like a blanket, or perhaps several blankets, but they don’t lend themselves to finger-snapping, toe-tapping or singing in the shower.
The band’s limitations catch up with them in the record’s back half as a certain sameness of tempo and duration make the already-noticeable similarities in structure and arrangement all the more apparent. It would be an overstatement to say that the songs all sound the same, but there are undeniable similarities. Then again, that’s not necessarily a criticism. The Stargazer Lilies have worked very hard to establish a particular sound, and it’s questionable whether disposing of that sound would gain them much.
One thing we can all agree on, though, is that the 93-second exercise in knob twiddling, “Well Versed to Verb Doubt”, is a bit of self-indulgent silliness that could (and should) have been left off the album.
Highlights must include the fuzz-heavy “Light of Day”, a late-album track that does shake up the proceedings a bit both with its slightly discordant layering and its marginally increased tempo. The track is well placed, as a listener might be in danger of nodding off at this stage – trading dreamy music for actual, y’know, dreams – and “Light of Day” provides something of a kick in the pants. A very gentle kick in the pants, but still.
The album closes with the lovely and haunting “Because”, a tune that dispenses with much of the sonic layering and relies on echoey vocals and the simplest of guitar lines. It’s a fitting end to an album that has taken the listener on such a gently trippy journey.