Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stars of the Lid - The Ballasted Orchestra (1997)

Ambient music usually comes in a small handful of different flavors. There's Brian Eno's trademark brand of detached melancholy, the sinister brooding and horror movie aesthetic of the Dark Ambient scene, and the hippy-dippy peace and love new age dreck not worth the plastic it's pressed on. Stars of the Lid fits into none of these categories. In fact, this is the first genuinely warm sounding ambient record I have heard.

It's hard to imagine getting much emotional content out of a record that is essentially forty minutes of drones, but right from the get go it is obvious that this is American music (the band hails from Texas.) When I listen to these tracks, I can't help but picture the vast deserts of the western United States complete with their serene majesty and inhospitable climate. There's even a hint of the Spaghetti Western thrown in, at least to my ears. Of course track titles like "Central Texas" and "Sun Drugs" don't hurt, either.

As I said, the music is drone oriented, but it feels very organic and not at all electronic. I'm unsure of the exact source material, but I'm pretty confident that guitars play a large part of it. The minimal sleeve notes indicate that the entire album was recorded on a 4-track, which is impressive in itself. Not knowing any better, I would have assumed that a lot of computer processing was involved.

I would recommend Stars of the Lid highly to those interested in ambient music that sounds a little different. I put this album on when I'm in the mood to relax, and I find the lush, warm textures comforting in a way that is lacking from much of the other music in the genre. As a final note, I would like to mention that near the end of the album there is a 20 minute piece in two parts called "Music for Twin Peaks Episode 30." For those who don't know, the amazing David Lynch TV series, Twin Peaks, was canceled after only 29 episodes, leaving many fans very unsatisfied with the abrupt ending. I'm not sure what the music here has to do with that (it's not noticeably different from anything else on the album) but it's a nice thought nonetheless.

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