I’ve been waiting for the rendezvous with Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride’s latest creature for a long time. Stars Of The Lid are not prolific – their last album was 2001’s excellent The Tired Sounds Of (Kranky) – and the pre-release hype about this new double CD was that it represents “the best music they’ve ever made”. The day has finally come, and the creature has materialized in a rather faded guise; it’s as if you had a date with the girl of your dreams and she turns up with her best friend to sabotage all your erotic plans. On this occasion, SOTL are aided by a small group of chamber musicians: three cellos, two trumpets, flugelhorn, clarinet, harp, plus a children’s choir whose contribution is barely detectable. The music is as ever somnolent and elegantly hypnotic, but this time it lacks the main feature of the duo’s earlier glories: suspension. Too many tracks are predictably tonal, at times almost in tea-and-cookies fashion. There is virtually no mystery or poignancy, though a few deeper moments are to be found in segments that recall Eno’s treatment of Pachelbel’s Canon in Discreet Music and in the tracks at the end of the second disc (“Tippy’s Demise” and “December Hunting For Vegetarian Fuckface”). Overall, it would be a nice enough record if it were reduced to a single CD containing the best pieces – and if I didn’t know it came from SOTL. As soon as the last notes had faded away, I felt the urge to go to the archives and retrieve The Ballasted Orchestra, a masterpiece of sorrowful oneiric disembodiment recorded on a 4-track cassette, and it sounded as wonderful as ever. This new album, on the other hand, is all too appropriately named: too refined by half, and, as far as the decline is concerned, I can only hope that this isn’t the beginning.


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