on 17 August 2003
I found this album by following Amazon’s (very helpful) "Explore similar artists" link, with magnificent Mùm and Boards of Canada as my starting points. Although I forcefully reject the assumption that Stars of the Lid be in any significant way "similar" to Mùm or BoC, I must say that it certainly is true that those who enjoy music by the aforementioned groups are likely to appreciate the content of this recording as well (indeed, I am living proof of this). I think explaining why in my opinion Stars of the Lid differ from Mùm and BoC alike, as well as why I was nonetheless taken in by their music, might help other customers to determine where this group stands in the musical scene.
However gentle, both albums by Mùm also have a strong rhythmic structure, mostly based on "micro-beats." It is the latter that provides the crackly effect people often mention when describing their music. Through repetition and layering, these micro-beats create a suggestive and very hypnotic atmosphere (the kind of warmth one feels at wintertime in front of a - well... "crackling" - fire when the wind is gushing outdoors). The female components of Mùm (two twin sisters) sing to the music in a sweet, gentle, almost childlike fashion, which of course adds to the charm enormously. All in all, repeated micro-beats (often similar to the mechanical chiming of a music box), romantic overlying melodies and graceful vocal renderings make listening to Mùm's music a very soothing experience.
Boards of Canada, on the other hand, use very powerful, at times overtly aggressive rhythmic patterns, notwithstanding the presence of a constant underlying hum. In any case, whether electronic or instrumental, their beat line is often very "percussional," almost tribal/pagan, and as a result very liberating. That is why one could very well dance to a good number of their songs. Although, in general, conventional singing is not present in BoC's records, the human voice does play an important part in their work, providing a sense of human presence, however distorted and disturbing it may be.
Both Mùm and BoC also rely extensively on the use of sampling, making it possible for them to be ascribed to the "concrete music" bunch. Furthermore, although one could easily put on their records for ambiance and listen to them from beginning to end without paying great attention to the way each individual song is structured, it is nonetheless true that, particularly in Mùm's case, each song does have a specific structure and does differ from every and any other on the record.
Turning now to The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, the first thing that comes to my mind is that there is no strong, recognizable rhythmic structure here. I'm no music expert I'm afraid, so of course the following is to be taken as an amateur's general impression, but it seems to me like all tracks on this album are based upon "pedal points," a pedal point being "a musical tone held by the bass." Now, while pedal points usually serve the purpose of giving a musical composition a solid background for other parts to develop freely over, in this case all melodies involved are so delicate that one would be tempted to say that the pedal point itself is the main feature. In other words, the music on this record is, for the most part, a sequence of overlapping drones, with just very unobtrusive touches of the piano and other instruments. Needless to say, there is no singing involved in this record, as well as no significant use of unexpected sound samples. Furthermore, most tracks intersect, or at least meld, making it rather arduous for one to tell the difference between one track and the following. This leads to a very hypnotic atmosphere indeed, where hypnosis is no longer merely an effective image to describe the music, a metaphor, as in Mùm's case, but a nearly physical effect the music itself exerts upon the listener. (In fact, based on personal experience, I have reason to believe that repeated, everlasting drones must stimulate the eardrum itself in such a way as to induce relaxation, or at least tiredness! Is it not so?)
The Tired Sounds reminds me not of something by Mùm or Boards of Canada, but much more so of Terrry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air (and of other works by Minimalists in classical music). I have no knowledge of whether what I'm about to suggest is true or not, but the more I listen to The Tired Sounds the more I am inclined to believe that Stars of the Lid too, like Terry Riley before them, must have found inspiration in Oriental music, such as Hindu Ragas, or at least in Oriental philosophy. The Tired Sounds seem to me like an ideal background for meditation. The sense of calm, peacefulness, and utter mental "blankness" it brings about suits meditation perfectly. This record (a double CD, to be exact!) is an impressive work of art, and I'm sure its simplicity and pampering gentleness will help many to find approximately two hours of peace of mind. Not bad, I say.
(Lastly, I have to agree with one Amazon customer who suggested Arvo Part as a good alternative/addition to this record. His Tabula Rasa is certainly right in tune.)