Stars of the Lid: and Their Refinement of Decline

Bob Burnett: "This music is gorgeous" said Dan, my colleague in the world of media production, as he walked in my office to the soothing sounds of Stars of the Lid's recent release, Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of Decline. "Stick around", I said gleefully, "it's going to be like this for another couple of hours".

Stars of the Lid is a duo effort of Brian McBride and Adam Wilkzie. They've been working together for decades, however this is their first release since 2001's The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid. Their music is a wonderful extension of compositions easily attributed to Brian Eno--layers of warm, flowing sounds that create their own sonic landscapes and for that matter make existing landscapes more interesting. Just think of dust floating in sunlight, clouds in the sky reflecting off the windows of an office building or anything else subtle and spontaneously gorgeous and you'll be in sync with what happens on Stars of the Lid's albums.

I actually backed into this duo thanks to Adam Wilkzie's equally engaging solo effort, The Dead Texan, a collaborative effort with visual artist Christina Vantzos. Adam did the music and Christina did a DVD with 7 animated clips that accompany the music. The Dead Texan has more sonic range than Stars of the Lid--it features spare guitar lines and occasional voices along with the floating keyboard-derived backgrounds. There are moments within the album that Wilkzie not only nods to Eno but directly lifts some of Eno's Another Green World melody lines into lovely reconfigurations.

At other instances The Dead Texan reminds me of softer moments on David Sylvian's Gone To Earth album which features the very nuanced playing by Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson.

If you haven't gathered from reading c60 over the past few months, I am a big fan of extended, slowly evolving compositions a la Eno, Morton Feldman and Lamonte Young. These recordings fit the genre beautifully.


Do you UBU?

Bob Burnett: Here's a small summertime nod to a fascinating web page. The webpage www.ubu.com has been around since 1996 as a "repository for visual, concrete and sound poetry" however given faster internet connection speeds and better quality compression tools, they've expanded to have an incredible selection of "all forms of avant garde and beyond". If you scan around you'll find all kinds of gems---from mp3's to films to other archives. Case in point: I just recently purchased a DVD compilation of Joseph Cornell's films for about $30. Guess what? They are now on Ubu Web----I'm glad I own them on DVD but if you are like me you probably saw something in a college film studies class 30 years ago by Stan Brakhage or Maya Deren, or heard something in contemporary literature by Samuel Beckett only to have it drift far, far away because there wasn't a way to re-visit it beyond the confines of a college campus. No more---Ubu Web is there for you to re-visit, re-kindle and discover. I'd love to sit here and tell you more but I feel the need to go back to Ubu Web and watch Robert Frank's Pull My Daisy.


Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues

Bob Burnett: In thinking about how to approach this write-up I got more and more into making a mental list about duet albums and duets in particular I find myself attracted to. John Coltrane-Rashied Ali, Jeremy Steig-Eddie Gomez, Sam Rivers-Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton-Richard Teitelbaum, Don Cherry-Ed Blackwell came to mind immediately. Also scores of duet arrangements Derek Bailey played in with people such as John Zorn, Cyro Baptista, Jamie Muir, Tony Oxley and Evan Parker. I'm sure you could come up with your own off-the-top of the head list too.

Thanks to Tongues , I'm able to add Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid to my list. This duo brings together Hebden's spontaneous/improvisational electronics with Reid's "big ear" interpretive, yet groovin' drumming-- which offers insight into how his skills have allowed him to be a legendary Motown house guy (playing Martha and the Vandellas "Dancin' in the Streets" as a teenager) as well as spanning the world of Afro-groove and "new thing" jazz with artists such as Fela Kuti, Charles Tyler, Frank Lowe and many others over the last 40 or so years.

Tongues brings to mind the "mad scientist" music happenings that accompanied the Merce Cunningham dance company in the '60s and '70s--where John Cage, David Tudor, Earle Brown and scores of others over the years would sit behind portable tables filled with "black boxes" of sound generating equipment all connected by miles of patch cord cables and speaker wire to create textural soundscapes that filled the concert hall for the Cunningham dancers on stage.

Hebden and Reid's interplay floats from sounds that cover digital skipping cacophony to gamelan, car alarm to balafon to video game to beach arcade to musique concrete in their sonic pursuits. Throughout Reid maintains steady, yet clever, pulses which work for me as a freeing device for Hebden's ingenuity. Hebden must be having a riot of a time in this duet--he's mostly known as the name behind the much more controlled, safer (albeit excellent) electronica-pop of Four Tet. I was pleasantly surprised by how far "out" this album goes. I was expecting something much more reserved and "pretty".

They also have a webpage that demonstrates their interplay nicely. Take a look to get a glimpse into their world.

I've fallen deeply into enjoying Tongues and look forward to exploring their other albums. Granted, this one takes time to sink in so don't immediately run fast the other way wondering what in the world was I thinking by leading you to this far-reaching album. The pay-off is worth it in the long run.


Summer Selects O-Rama

Bob Burnett: Thanks for checking back after our radio silence. I think I'll ramp back up into c60-ness with a general overview of some music I've been listening to this summer.

By far the most played disc by me has been Fotheringay--another Island "pink label" classic from Sandy Denny et al. "The Sea" may be one of my all time favorite songs. And how about their version of Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing" ? I think the techincal reviewer description is "Woo--wie!!!". I was probably on a 20 year hiatus with this album and coming back to it has been a joy.

The Nels Cline Singers have a new album out called Draw Breath. A few listens tells me it builds on the fine tradition of "audio canvas creating" this group (Nels Cline--guitars, Devin Hoff--contrabass, Scott Amendola--drums/percussion/"live" electronics) started several releases ago.

I've also been enjoying a Syd Barrett compilation that takes selections from his "Barrett" and "Madcap Laughs" albums.

Just today I played Frank Wright's beautiful composition "Aurora Borealis" from his Uhuru Na Umoja album. I heard this Coltranesque composition on the radio (imagine that--discovering music on the radio.......) in Cincinnati, Ohio earlier in the year and have enjoyed it ever since.

I'm also begining to re-visit Olivia Tremor Control's stack of re-releases, more Andrew Hill, Jim O'Rourke, MORE Juana Molina and a few avant soundscapes.

I hope you all have been having a wonderful listening summer too.


Stay Tuned.....

Bob Burnett: Sorry posts have been few and far between---I've been traveling for work a bunch and Kim and Rob both just moved to new houses---Rob taking up residency in Richmond, Va. Mike also has been running low on energy with the summer yuks.

Anyway-------stick around, we'll be back soon.