Stars of the Lid - "Before Top Dead Center" (Music for Nitrous Oxide)
ďDroneĒ is a useful backdoor into minimal duo Stars of the Lidís sound, but within the first five minutes of any of the bandís releases itís clear that the bandís oceanic swells donít plateau, as the quasi-genre name might suggest. Stars of the Lidís first release, 1994ís Music for Nitrous Oxide, has been remastered and is now being re-released by Sedimental Records. Its function isnít 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 SOTLís 15-year slog through classical and ambient. Itís successful, and the bandís 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 í94 presented here are to the bi-continental tintinnabulators of 2007ís elegant And Their Refinement of the Decline.
Contemporary SOTL is present and absent in equal measure in their introduction to the world, the albumís opener ďBefore Top Dead Center.Ē 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 Wiltzieís guitar pedal. (Co-Star Brian McBride didnít pick up a guitar until the groupís next record, and he lords over tapes here.) Beyond the rough edges of the mid-fi recording, whatís unusual about ďBefore Top Dead CenterĒ are certain frequencies that the duo hadnít 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. (ď(Live) Lid,Ē while sort of pretty in its gapless intensity, also feels obnoxious and unyielding, the only SOTL song thatís actually woken me up.) Itís a kind of feedback disharmony too rich to be simply wrong, and one theyíd 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 isnít much on Nitrous Oxide to date it apart from some tracks that incorporate movie dialogue, a part of í90s 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.
Thereís 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 donít expect Iíll be using this as de facto falling asleep music as I might some of their other releases, and I know I wonít be listening to it as much for pleasure or relaxation or challenge, but SOTLís 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.