Stars of the Lid: And Their Refinement of the Decline

Painstakingly conceived and assembled over the past five years, Stars of the Lid's (Austin-based duo Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride) And Their Refinement of the Decline is about as glorious a release as devotees of The Tired Sounds Of… might have hoped. Like that 2001 opus, the new collection comprises two compact (or three vinyl) discs and lasts two hours—an event, in other words, and not just because it's kranky's 100th release. Uninterrupted engagement with the material proves immersive, with time seeming to suspend itself altogether the more one surrenders to the music's pull.

Words like majestic, peaceful, hymnal, glacial, heavenly, and ethereal spring to mind as the discs' ghostly tones stretch across the sky and dusty piano chords echo down abandoned corridors. Strings gracefully curl like smoke rings and chords gently surge like slow-motion waves throughout the set's eighteen drifting drones. Titles alone speak volumes: “Dopamine Clouds Over Craven Cottage” alludes to the music's narcoticizing impact, plus Wiltzie and McBride prevent any whiff of over-earnestness from seeping in by titling pieces “Dungtitled (in A Major)” and “That Finger on Your Temple Is the Barrel of My Raygun.” The duo's augmented by a small chamber orchestra of strings, horns, and woodwinds plus a children's choir, but the music retains its spacious, uncluttered character despite such resources. Most of the pieces are calming; a few, like “Tippy's Demise,” unsettle with their brooding tones and subtle hint of threat.

Whether by accident or design, the album occasionally references other 'ambient' classics: the meandering theme that haunts “Don't Bother They're Here” strongly recalls Robert Wyatt's piano part in the opening piece of Eno's Music For Airports and the album's jarringly-titled outro, the eighteen-minute “December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface,” ends the release with elegiac string writing that, in its closing minutes especially, recalls Gavin Bryars' poignant Sinking of the Titanic. Regardless, And Their Refinement of the Decline remains a work of spellbinding grandeur.

April 2007