The most open-minded fans of experimental or avant-garde music will — in their most private moments — admit they know precisely why the great majority of music-listeners tend to shy away from their chosen genre. It’ s not necessarily because the music is harsh or dissonant, or because it lacks a recognizable structure. Everything from new age to Timbaland contains some or all of these elements.
What the great majority of avant-garde lacks is the touching quality that is imbued only to the most deeply human works of art. Of course, such a qualification is wildly subjective and impossible to quantify, but most open-minded music fans who dabble in the avant-garde point to just that ephemeral characteristic as the central appeal of what little experimental music they do listen to: it is moving, in the same way all good music is, pop or otherwise.
That lack of humanity, that stoicism and coldness, constitute many of the critiques leveled against both ambient music and post-rock. These two genres also happen to encompass the twin poles of Stars of the Lids’ musical cosmology. The duo of Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride hail from Texas, and operate in a distinguished lineage of drone, space and ambient rock emanating from the lone star state. The band originally employed electric guitars and little else to conjure the distinctive walls of noise so specific to their genre; the screaming noise capable of lulling one to sleep. As the band has progressed, so have their ambitions, culminating in last years _…And Their Refinement of the Decline_.
Where comet tail distortion and swirling pedal work once filled up every available space, McBride and Wiltzie now allow electronics, strings, horns, and cavernous silence to provide startling texture, subtle rhythms, and a majestic beauty. The distance between sounds on Refinement seem to carry a tangible weight, supporting and distinguishing the gossamer shards of melody floating in and out of each piece.
Though the component parts are familiar from a hundred different bands, the evocative whole ultimately differentiates Stars of the Lid. Their music recalls a specific and restrained sort of splendor that is difficult to articulate, the comforting alienation from one’s own humanity found in the stillest of winter mornings, watching a stranger cry. It’s a beautiful thing; delicate, glacial, and ultimately deeply moving in a way that surpasses genre, which explains the cultish devotion afforded the band in widely disparate musical circles, both the Wire set and the Magnet crowd.
The duo perform tonight at Parkland’s Staerkel Planetarium, accompanied by a string quartet and the 16mm films of Luke Savisky.
It is being presented by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets to this event are sold out.