“I simply feel that they are making the most important music of the 21st century.” That bold claim by Ivo Watts-Russell has been used in the advanced publicity of this album, bringing to mind the hubris of “I have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen” and all the trouble that caused. And The Refinement Of Their Decline is only Stars Of The Lid’s second album of the century too, following The Tired Sounds from 2001. Like that record, this is a double with eighteen tracks and a playing time of well over two hours.
Tired Sounds was a triumph, albeit an album that really went as far as it could go in the direction of narcoleptic drones without degenarating into a simple low level hum. Both CDs opened with some gorgeous gossamer melody, but then seemed to decay into a long drawn out drone and then silence. There were subtleties along the way, but it was like a melodious half-life that faded infinitely into the ether. It was effective, but unrepeatable. So Stars Of The Lid have made a pop album. As if.
And the Refinement Of Their Decline sounds like dreams. Everything happens in the background. Drones dominate, but there is more going on. Although sometimes it is hard to define what is on the CD and what is simply an aural illusion in the head, especially at low volumes. It is mood music – and the mood is dead of night, 3am solitude of the half waking / half sleeping. It is not music you could imagine sharing. The duo have introduced more organic instrumentation on this album – there is piano, cello and woodwind. There is even a children’s choir, but they have been processed into ghosts. The second CD seems to have more substance than the first, and is slightly more bolder and melodious, and less spectral. Their are echoes of Brian Eno’s ambient works, of course, but there is something that Stars Of The Lid have latched on to here that few others have managed. There is some trigger to the subconscious that they seem to be able to trip that gives what is essentially skeletal music such power.
I’ve had these CDs for a while, but it’s taken me a long time to figure out what to say about them. But this is music for the imagination, not for discussion. A masterpiece.