Brian McBride: When the Detail Lost its Freedom

Borne out of the turmoil of a divorce and a Chicago-to-LA move, When the Detail Lost its Freedom finds Stars of the Lid member Brian McBride transmuting personal angst into gloriously elegiac music. With its hypnotic streams of muffled tones, piercing strings, and delicate piano adornments, the haunting “Overture (for Other Halfs)” sets the bar almost impossibly high at the outset, but the subsequent eleven meditations maintain a similar elegant poise.

Song titles alone convey the music's mood (“A Gathering to Lead Me When You're Gone” is as sombre as one might expect, while the windswept ambiance and hushed vocals of “Our Last Moment in Song” strongly recall mid-‘90s Labradford). “Retenir” includes violin playing by Eden Batki (aka the Inland Empire Symphony Quartet), though her string sound, much like the album's other instruments, loses some degree of individuating character via processing (throughout When the Detail Lost its Freedom, violins resemble guitars and guitars turn piano-like as instruments blur into collective pools of abstract tones), while the guitar shadings of Mike Linnen and Cheri Keating's wordless singing augment the funereal horn dirge “The Guilt of Uncomplicated Thoughts.” Elsewhere, faint outdoor sounds seemingly drift through the shadows of “I Will” alongside the ebb and flow of guitar streams before “Latent Sonatas (for Ebo)” brings the hour-long collection to a stately close.

It's an absolutely beautiful collection, with McBride's material distinguished in numerous ways. Note, for example, his restrained handling of silence in “Overture (for Other Halfs)” where notes reverberantly trail off into pregant pauses—how welcome (and rare) it is to hear space incorporated so effectively.

November 2005