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Stars of the Lid - Music for Nitrous Oxide

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Artist: Stars of the Lid

Album: Music for Nitrous Oxide

Label: Sedimental

Review date: Apr. 22, 2009

“Drone” is a useful backdoor into minimal duo Stars of the Lid’s sound, but within the first five minutes of any of the band’s releases it’s clear that the band’s oceanic swells don’t plateau, as the quasi-genre name might suggest. Stars of the Lid’s first release, 1994’s Music for Nitrous Oxide, has been remastered and is now being re-released by Sedimental Records. Its function isn’t to rescue songs that had either disappeared (Sedimental kept the record in print over the years) or had been plagued by bad audio quality, but, it seems, to anchor the worthiness of SOTL’s 15-year slog through classical and ambient. It’s successful, and the band’s audience, which has grown steadily with each of their seven full-length releases, will find a pleasant shock in both how like and unlike the Austin stoners of ’94 presented here are to the bi-continental tintinnabulators of 2007’s elegant And Their Refinement of the Decline.

Contemporary SOTL is present and absent in equal measure in their introduction to the world, the album’s opener “Before Top Dead Center.” Birthed into the world by a very steady finger on a Yamaha 4-track fader, the seemingly endless fade-in is an establishing shot of two heavily processed chords over wobbly, flickering low-end, perhaps a by-product of Adam Wiltzie’s guitar pedal. (Co-Star Brian McBride didn’t pick up a guitar until the group’s next record, and he lords over tapes here.) Beyond the rough edges of the mid-fi recording, what’s unusual about “Before Top Dead Center” are certain frequencies that the duo hadn’t yet learned how to deal with; at points, Music for Nitrous Oxide can almost set your teeth on edge with a hard-to-pinpoint tension. (“(Live) Lid,” while sort of pretty in its gapless intensity, also feels obnoxious and unyielding, the only SOTL song that’s actually woken me up.) It’s a kind of feedback disharmony too rich to be simply wrong, and one they’d learn how avoid or sublimate on future releases. Maybe they were short a pedal?

On the subject of pedals, SOTL sound remarkably like what every novice guitarist with a Line 6 DL4 banks on: a technological-aesthetic meld that avoids the stupid intentionality of riffs. There isn’t much on Nitrous Oxide to date it apart from some tracks that incorporate movie dialogue, a part of ’90s music that few nostalgists have bothered to bring back. But the other threads begun here have failed to peter out: the line connecting this stuff to the likes of Grouper is fairly straight and unbroken.

There’s nearly as much to enjoy here as on a major work like The Tired Sounds of and only a little more to figure out. I don’t expect I’ll be using this as de facto falling asleep music as I might some of their other releases, and I know I won’t be listening to it as much for pleasure or relaxation or challenge, but SOTL’s career has been amazing enough to allow for this sort of re-issue: the kind that positions the band in their quasi-historical place at a consequential moment in a consequential movement.

By Brandon Bussolini

Other Reviews of Stars of the Lid

The Tired Sounds Of Stars of the Lid

Avec Laudenum

And Their Refinement of the Decline

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View all articles by Brandon Bussolini

Find out more about Sedimental

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