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Stars of the Lid: Music for Nitrous Oxide

Stars of the Lid: Music for Nitrous Oxide

Release Date:2009

By Lee Gardner | Posted 2/4/2009

Music for Nitrous Oxide was released in 1994 under wily camouflage: It looked exactly like a typical indie-rock album, right down to the ungainly band name, enigmatic title, shoddy art, and hand-of-Malkmus cover lettering. It sounded nothing at all like the frenetic, abrasive guitar music of the era, however--more like a soundtrack for calving glaciers. It was, in fact, one of the first unassuming salvos in an indie-ambi-experimental revolution that reverberates to the present day, when the plangent drone is an everyday staple right up there with AutoTune. Fifteen years after the fact, original label Sedimental has remastered, redesigned, and re-released MNO back into the world it in some small way helped shape.

Jumping off from Eno, Pärt, and Talk Talk, Texans Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie experimented with guitar hum fed through effects, field recordings, sound bites, and other assorted sonic ephemera, boiling it all down to nine extended four-track recordings for their debut. What's striking now about this early SOTL, despite its soporific feel, is how raw it is, how rough, how close in texture, if not tempo or emphasis, to the amp-soaked, feeding-back sound of more ordinary mid-'90s indie, "(Live) Lid" and "Tape Hiss Makes Me Happy" in particular. (The fact that many of the pieces are essentially two-chord grinds doesn't hurt the resemblance.) "Down" and the throbbing "The Swellsong," on the other hand, stand as forerunners of the more polished, melodic sound the duo would go on to pursue and push to a pinnacle with 2001's epic The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid. While the piped-in snippets of dialog from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Apocalypse Now, and random evangelists indelibly mark MNO as a product of the '90s, this music otherwise sounds like it could have been recorded last week.

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