Archive for the ‘stars of the lid’ Tag

Ambient manifesto

I spent last weekend in Boston for the Kranky Records showcase at Brainwaves Fest 2008. Kranky is my favorite label, because they put out long, slow, intensely boring music. Ambient music traces the shape of my heart, filling it with abstraction more potent than words.

Kranky is home to Stars of the Lid, a band I saw twice that weekend—once at the moody Le Poisson Rouge theater in Manhattan, and again at Brainwaves day 3. Stars of the Lid are a rotating string quartet anchored by the creative vision and electric guitar of Brian McBride. They are a perfect realization of concept in sound, with each of their expansive instrumental albums evoking star-streaked galaxies gliding through space.

For their LPR show, SotL played to a seated audience on a pitch black stage with only the tiny blue stand lights to illuminate the score. Behind them, projections of diffuse color in the purple-pink hues of nebulas and dust were cast across the length of the stage, flickering and dimming as the music swelled and burst.

I often wonder how anyone not accustomed to the style of SotL would react to a show. It is not demanding music, though it does require patience. It is not challenging nor discordant, though it is as loud as rock. Anyone could agree that it is exceedingly listenable; but would they catch even a glimpse of the sublime I would feel?

The kind of ambient rock played by SotL is sentimental, dramatic and intense; but so am I, so it suits me well. SotL and other favorites of mine work in long form with less structure and more gradual evolution. They sacrifice melody and lyrics for textures and tones. Ambient is also a fragmented form. This music relies less on bucketing its sounds into verse-chorus-verse, and instead gives us a series of impressions, abstract and indistinct, freed from the rules of song. Each musical fragment defines its own edges and bleeds into the next; sound vignettes smeared across time.

Instrumental music like this does not attract listeners easily. I’ve learned that people often connect with the message in the words from their favorite songs. But for me, lyrics are a distraction that demand their own memories and associations, separate from the music below it. Likewise, highly structured music is its own symbolic language, that tells its story by referencing the song form itself. Both of those things activate my thoughts and interrupt my experience of raw emotion. Words are once removed from feeling, and wordless music bypasses thought and connects directly to sense. It is music that allows you to reach a height of bliss that burns away the chatter, and makes your mind quiet by pouring your heart full.

Stars of the Lid

Stars of the Lid @ Brainwaves Festival 2008 ( from nariposa on Vimeo.