Sunday, 25 March 2012

Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement Of The Decline (2007)

Sometimes life is just plain shit. Sometimes everything you had and held dear just turns to shit overnight. Music is supposed to be the food of love, but when love gets damaged, what's left? 

I'll tell you what - music.

I've had music in my life for almost 46 years now. My father loved music and I grew up around his record collection. I remember those rows of vinyl under the old stereo system, it didn't matter to me what the music was, the fact that my father had amassed a large collection of albums that soundtracked his life had the greatest impact on me. I think that's why I became so obsessed with collecting myself from an early age. I won't pretend I had the coolest record collection stuffed full of yesterday's classics and all those post-modern touchstones that we only discover years after the fact. No, I bought what my life revolved around -  even if that meant the records themselves were pretty ropey in hindsight. 

Years pass and we continually re-evaluate our listening habits. Some folks don't ever progress beyond what they were playing in their teens and twenties. Some folks stick rigidly to a particular genre. Nothing is wrong when it comes to listening to music.

The rise of the internet and file sharing has opened up music to the masses to a point where we truly can have access to pretty much everything ever committed to vinyl, tape or CD. This is when I fell in love with music all over again. I have spent the last several years since digitising my CD collection finding some of the most amazing albums I have ever heard. I was always a heavy consumer of vinyl and CDs but over the last eight years or so I have doubled my collection. I am constantly amazed by what I discover, sometimes on a daily basis.

And so, when life changes, music remains a constant throughout. No matter how traumatic those changes may be, we still have the albums and songs that will comfort us, give us strength and make all of the shit a little less shit. Music will never judge you, accuse you, humiliate you or betray you. It will always be there for you no matter what.

Music is my life.

It would be crass to describe the music on this album as cinematic, but the first thing that strikes me about Stars of the Lid And their Refinement of the Decline is its similarity to the work of Zbigniew Preisner and specifically his work with film director Krzysztof Kieslowski. This isn't necessarily in sound alone, Stars of the Lid share Preisner's (and Kieslowski's) sense of restraint, of minimalism and stark beauty without resorting to meaningless sentimentalism. This is simply beautiful music in its rawest form - horns, strings and that haunting reverb-drenched guitar all perfectly placed and allowed time to breathe. Nothing here is rushed, you hear passages rise and fall gloriously, sounds make an entrance and slowly disappear and nothing ever dares to outstay it's welcome. Arvo Pärt, Gavin Bryars or Brian Eno would all be more than appropriate comparisons for this stunning collection of work, but Stars of the Lid are almost at the point where they defy comparison altogether. Of course they have introduced further, more overtly 'classical' elements into their mix but the music they are making now is quite uniquely their own - they are one of those rare bands that has absolutely defined a sound. 

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