Stars of the Lid: And Their Refinement of the Decline (Kranky, 2007)

by Brent

Star so the Lid RefinementYes, I realize that arguably the most anticipated ambient release of 2007, Stars of the Lid’s double disc And Their Refinement of the Decline was released months ago, to a slew of favourable reviews. It seems almost absurd to attempt to write a review of the discs now, months after the ravenous independent music press has already sunk their teeth into them. However, I’ll chalk up our silence on And Their Refinement of the Decline on one fact: I was simply speechless. What could I say to express the glee I had in having a new Stars of the Lid release in my hands, after years of lamenting the band’s inactivity?  After all had for a new Stars of the Lid had faded with the band members Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride’s lives taking the two on separate continents, how could I describe the cryptic but joyous news that the two had somehow figured out a way to release a double disc’s worth of brand new material? And, upon receiving the disc as a preorder from a friend, how could I describe in words that could justify the wordless pristine beauty of the music on the discs? And really, what DOES one say about ambient music…the whole essence of the music, at least as far as I understand it, is simply to listen. To absorb. To BE in the moment, with no other distractions or agendas. To float. To daydream. To dissociate.  To drift off to sleep, other worlds, or one’s inner thoughts. Is it really counterproductive, then, to try and write words about a CD that is the perfect soundtrack to all of these non-acts? And Their Refinement of the Decline leaves you quieted and speechless, content and stilled, as one would expect from a Stars of the Lid release. Beyond that, what else do you need to know?

I suppose people who are not familiar with the band actually need to know a little bit more, so I’ll go against my own principles and reduce And Their Refinement of the Decline to words, but only for a bit. Both CD’s of the release are full of gently swelling drones performed by the duo on their guitars and keyboards, as well as a host of string, woodwind and brass instruments played by guest musicians. It seems that the key word of And Their Refinement of the Decline is “refinement”, as the band plays on this release an even subtler and gentler form of ambient music than on their previous releases. While hints of menace do appear from time to time (such as on the delicately darkness) “Apreludes (in C sharp major)” most of the music is patient, light as air, and accessibly gorgeous. The layers of sound are seemingly thin and almost flimsy, but careful re-listens yield the realization that there is so much movement and denseness within the music that is difficult to detect on the first listen. The songs on both discs flow beautifully into each other, rendering And Their Refinement of the Decline a gratifying listen from beginning to end. If the listener is new to Stars of the Lid, all you simply need to know is that the band is perhaps the most highly regarded current acts in ambient music, and And Their Refinement of the Decline only solidifies this status. The release is minimalist, warm, immaculate and tender, and is a joy to listen to. But, then again, words can’t really describe Stars of the Lid, so what’s the use trying? Buy, listen, and BE in this gorgeous music…

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