Bonus points duly awarded for sublimely beautiful album art.
And so, once again, the compost heap is faced with that question that has oft perplex'd many a music journalist - how the fuck do you write about ambient music without sounding like a big purple knob (that is, if big purple knobs could write)? I have tried and failed many times. The classic trap is to try and describe what the music sounds like, which is a gift that only this man seems to possess. Writing in detailed metaphor about ambient music is a bit like describing your dreams to other people (something that I do a lot, woops). It is boring, and the main reason it is boring is because it is an act of describing something of perceived personal significance that means sweet fuck all to those around you. It indulges the notion that the random picture show in your mind's eye amounts to more than a few synapses misfiring while you sleep. With all that in mind, I'm going to leave my dictionary of adjectives on the high shelf for this album and briefly try to describe its significance to me with no mention of benign whales mating at the edge of the universe or other such rubbish.
Pitchfork's writers made a list of the best music of the decade and this album just about made the grade, sneaking in at about 187th place or something, which is probably a fair reflection of where it stands in the grand scheme of things, objectively speaking. When all is said and done about a decade that contains Daft Punk, The Strokes and Beyonce, 'The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid' will be noted as just an uncommonly good album of ambient music. And ambient music is always going to be a niche genre. The genre is overrepresented on this blog because I love it so much, and I think Stars of the Lid make some of the most beautiful ambient music a person could ever wish to hear.
Due to my dumb rule of one album per band, it was a close call as to which Stars of the Lid album would come so high on this list. Their more minimal 2007 release 'And the Refinement of their Decline' is hewed from the same stuff of genius as this album (slow classical compositions, drones and musique concréte), and if I was writing this on a Tuesday morning instead of a Saturday afternoon it would have made the grade. There's no point in trying to quantify this stuff, is there?
'The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid' is very long. It was released as a triple CD album and contains a number of suites of music (according to the titles at least) and in-betweeny compositions. The music is beautiful in an indescribable music-of-the-spheres kind of way, but unlike, say, Brian Eno's classic 'Music for Airports', it is not emotionally neutral. Even if the songs were shorn of their evocative titles, there would be no doubting the bottomless sense of lament that animates the 'Requiem for Dying Mothers' compositions at the start of the album. Their lament is not showy though, not in the way that Max Richter's music can lay it on and perhaps manipulate the listener. The music seems to come from somewhere more foreign; more real?
And now for the bit where I sort of break my rule. I was in hospital for a long stretch recently, and I had my second tilt at Joyce's Ulysses while I was in there. In an unpremeditated fluke of a moment that set the hairs standing on the back of my neck, I ended up listening to this album while reading the Hades chapter - where Leopold Bloom comprehends death in Glasnevin cemetery and the Joycean prose rattles wildly through the sort of spooked revelations that might occur to a man standing separated from hundreds of corpses by a few foot of clay. He imagines gramophones under the ground, one for each corpse, transmitting crumbly sounds of the person's life back to earth so they are not forgotten. I then remembered me as a teenager sitting on the bus to Kells from Dublin and realising, properly, for the first time, as the bus passed Dunshaughlin cemetery that I was passing a place full of the dead, and I remembered also my uncle's funeral and the faces of people who I had never seen cry a tear in their life, how heartbreakingly unusual they looked in wet mournful ribbons around the grave on a blustery day.
MP3: Stars of the Lid-Requiem for Dying Mothers Part 2