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Stars of the Lid & Their Refinement of the Decline

4.8 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

After the near symphonic exercise of engaging the void that was Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid in 2001, it was hard to believe there was anything left to do. Wrong. Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie emerged from the studio in early 2007 with the equally huge And Their Refinement of the Decline. The notion of symphonic here is, without doubt, still present, but not in any normal way. Over two very differently themed discs, and three LPs, Stars of the Lid engage long conceptual ideas from a place one can only call micro-minimalism. An obsession with drones fading in and out on all kinds of instruments is what takes precedent here, whether that be a string section, a solo cello, harp, trumpet or a children's choir. (Yes, all of them are here, and more.) Don't worry, all this deep fixation with drones and classical music doesn't mess up Stars of the Lid's sense of humor. The titles are still hilarious in places (the set opens with a piece titled "Dungtitled (In a Major)"). The sound of drones is prevalent on disc one, though the drones change and are actually held notes. Whether they are played live or simply articulated and then manipulated by electronics doesn't matter. The feeling of being washed over, being gently pulled under water to someplace where language no longer makes sense, feelings get all folded together and an overwhelming calm takes over - especially at loud volumes - as single notes are held by the strings for as long as five minutes. The aforementioned piece is like this, as are "The Evil That Never Arrived," and "Apreludes (In C Major)," which moves through one note for minutes at a time with an ever increasing dynamic and textural array of sounds and instruments and begins to feel like the opening theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet the real bottom line in these pieces, and to a lesser but no less relevant extent, is that these cuts feel like a part of an opening whole that is also at the end of something, like quiet exits from a long-form work, with the feelings of being finished, exhausted, lulled by the lack of energy and motion. It's impossible to say, but when engaging disc two, it feels almost as if it is a mirror image to Gavin Bryars' magnificent "The Sinking of the Titantic" (the second version). Here, where melody dissipates and disappears or never even arrives, as in "The Daughters of Quiet Minds," or the in-and-out of the ether feel in "That Finger on Your Temple Is the Barrel of My Raygun," where actual oceanic and perhaps ship sounds can be heard washing through the mix; and the piece is merely three notes in scale. The sense of drama and restless experimentation are portrayed in back to back pieces ("Humectez la Mouture" and "Tippy's Demise") where on the former a voice in French speaks out of an indescribable series of spaces and noises, and on the latter a cello harmonically plays with the all but absent "orchestra" who have disappeared into the actual feel of the piece rather than remained in it's mechanical parts. The set's final cut, "Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface" begins with voices, muted yet telling, washed into the emerging sound, where chords express themselves, shift and change shape, color and dimension, becoming both something more and something less in the process. At over 17 minutes, more instruments are added, they emerge louder and are more "present" but remain under the guise of absence, as that thing that has already been wiped away. The single- and two-note lines that emerge from the slow, turtle-like pace of the track never move toward anything else even though they assert the theme in various dynamic ways on occasions before re-entering the shadow world of sound. Everything here is rounded. There are no edges on either disc, it's all fuzzy and yet brilliant to hear at the same time. It's music of such quiet and devastating power it can silence a room in five minutes without the volume knob on the stereo being manipulated. There are detractors - or better yet, cynics - who wonder why, and how, music like this.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Dungtitled (In A Major)
  2. Part 1
  3. Part 2
  4. The Evil That Never Arrived
  5. Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)
  6. Don't Bother They're Here
  7. Dopamine Clouds Over Craven Cottage
  8. Even If You're Never Awake
  9. Even (Out)
  10. A Meaningful Moment Through a Meaning(Less) Process

Disc: 2

  1. Another Ballad For Heavy Lids
  2. Hiberner Toujours
  3. That Finger on Your Temple Is the Barrel of My Raygun
  4. The Mouthchew
  5. December Hunting For Vegetarian Fuckface
  6. Tippy's Demise


Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 3, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Kranky
  • ASIN: B000NIIUX8
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,389 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By somethingexcellent VINE VOICE on April 15, 2007
Format: Audio CD
The Tired Sounds Of came out nearly five and a half years ago and in the time since then has become one of my most trusted ambient releases. Sure, I love my Brian Eno and my more modern work by Deathprod and others, but there's something about the sounds that the duo of Stars Of The Lid put together on that release that call me back time after time. Of course, since that release came out, both members of the group have released solid solo albums (Adam Wiltzie's The Dead Texan and Brian McBride's When The Detail Lost It's Freedom), but neither of those releases seemed to quite match the power of the two when they were working together under that somnolent pseudonym.

And so And Their Refinement Of The Decline is not only a big release because it's their first in so many years, but also because it marks the ten year period of the two musicians working together, as well as the hundredth release on the venerable Kranky label. It's another sprawling 2CD, 3LP release from the group, clocking in at over two hours in length and it's quite possibly even more massive sounding and moving than their previous album.

That's saying a lot, and while it's not quite as immediately melodic as either of the solo albums from each member of the group, it's yet another album from Stars Of The Lid that simply seeps down around you and absorbs into your being. "Dungtitled (In A Major)" opens the release with a wheeze of filtered horns, then dissolves immediately into one of their familiar, yet somehow still highly moving widescreen panoramas of blurring strings, with a horn melody that creeps back in and tiptoes the line between mournful and triumphant.
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Format: Audio CD
After the post-millennial brick that was "The tired sounds of...", I was afraid that I had heard the last of SoTL. With the guys off in different days (Belgium vs LA), the effort needed to pull together and create anything, let alone something to match their previous best (not to bash Avec Laudinum, Ballasted or the others)would have to be signifigant. But with Refinement they have surpassed all my expectations.

This is the finest record to come out of 2007.

From the Bartok-esque opening strains of Dungtitled (in A Major), to the final mews of December Hunting for Vegitarian F*ckface, there isn't a point where my attention wanes or my emotions fail to be stirred. This is music that is at the same time cosmic and microscopic. It is the mechanical dreams of Pioneer 10 as it slumbers its way to infinity. It is the opera of hydrogen atoms. It is the songs of the empty spaces in the ocean, and the sound of dust motes in a beam of light as you sleep on a saturday afternoon with your dog.

With most of the 'ambient' music that is out there (Eno, Koner, Twin's SAW II, etc), it pays to let it enter the background and occasionally pop up to your attention. With SoTL's newest, I stand-sit-sprawl before my speakers in awe, with wonder at the music = no less than the bombasts of Sigur Ros or GSYBE at their finest moments. Do not buy this for sleeping. Buy this for awakening.
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I first became acquainted with Stars of the Lid through the work of their members on their own: Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie (one of the members of The Dead Texan). I instantly fell in love with both, with their endless musical soundscapes that transport you much like the greatest works of ambient, so I figured Stars of the Lid wouldn't be too far from it.

While I can say their music is not for everybody, I found myself quickly devouring the entire discography by the duo. Their work is loaded with sheets of sound that overlay each other in an almost endless fashion. It's drone-based ambient at its best, without any rush or hush to help you sleep like a baby or take you by the hand through your meditation.
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Great music to work to! No vocals to get in the way and you may even become too relaxed to get anything done! The music of Stars of the Lid seems to go well with just about anything, and definitely gives you a new perspective on things dependent upon the activity you combine the music with. This is one of their best albums, my favorite track being December Hunting For Vegetarian F@#$face. If you're looking to branch out from traditional relaxation music, this would be a good place to start.
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I've just finished listening to this double CD (121 minutes). I must say that it took me to many places and reminded me of so many other wonderful artists. It opens like Koyaanisqatsi, and ends like an Indian raga. Between these bookends it sounds like shimmering Harold Budd and Brian Eno. Warm passages soothe the soul. Dark corners keep you alert. Various instruments fade in and out. This is my first excursion into Stars of the Lid and I'd bet it's the best place to start. Put it on, turn it up, and relax for 2 hours. Very enjoyable.
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One of the best bodies of ambient music ever recorded. It is highly thematic and thought provoking with each and every track.
They are within the hierarchy of this form of music. This particular CD will be with me forever. It came to me-spontaneously- from listening to the Brian Eno station on Pandora-after the loss of my mother and was the perfect setting for the dimensions of my emotions during that period. Track two and eight are particularly significant to me for their sheer beauty and texture. I love Stars of the Lid, their depth is more significant than they probably know.
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