This week’s entry of The Weekend Album looks at the drone masterpiece “Music For Nitrous Oxide”, by Stars of the Lid.
As a genre, drone is difficult for some people to get into. Proper drone tracks tend to have a few different textures, all slowly undulating around each other, with occasional stabs of effects or samples thrown in. I’ve heard drone described as “wallpaper”…a static, aural wall that is unchanging, and, to many people, plain and boring. Drone CAN be boring, but there are certain circumstances where it’s the perfect thing to listen to. I generally write while listening to drone, and “Music for Nitrious Oxide” has long held a permanent place on my writing playlist.
“Before Top Dead Center” has a base consisting of a slowly undulating metallic sound that’s heavily filtered (complete with a lower-octave sibling.) Attatched to this is a high-pitched synth that stays mostly static…we’re talking real high up, likely somewhere in the 6th to 7th octave range. The main feature is a synth that alternates between two notes; the patch sounds like a processed violin crossed with an accordion that’s been EQ’d in such a way as to remove all of the lower frequency from it. It’s a really interesting sound; after listening to it lord knows how many times, I still can’t determine if it’s a single patch, or if its multiple patches layered over each other and given the same note structure. A smattering of old record static is the cherry on top, completing this well-rounded experience; this is one of those tracks you can leave on repeat for hours.
“Lagging” has more motion in it than most drone, utilizing a metallic yet watery pad that continues throughout the song. There’s also multiple long-form vocal samples that are used, with one of them being a guy screaming bloody murder, while another is some guy talking about contacting aliens and how they would communicate with us. I have NO idea where these samples were sourced, but they fit with the track quite well. The actual synths used in this track have a distinctively spacey feel to them…I could be wrong, but it sounds like there are a LOT of different instruments used, but are mostly kept at low volumes so you only get small flecks of their actual sound. If this is true, it’s an interesting technique, one that is expertly done. The last 40 seconds of the song has some harsh, metallic pads that sound as though they’re being modulated by way of a non-synced LFO, rather than manually adjusted through a filter.
The brilliantly named “Tape Hiss Makes Me Happy” is what I would consider to be a classic drone track. It uses a lot of the same patches found in previous tracks on the album, which helps give it a rounded, almost “compilation” kind of feel. Unfortunately, because so many of the patches are harsh and reside high in the octave range, this one can be a bit fatiguing to listen to on certain headphones. It’s brilliantly put together, but you likely won’t leave it on repeat like you would with “Before Top Dead Center”.
Stars of the Lid is, to the this day, one of the best drone groups out there. Their tracks are top-notch, and they have a real ear for layering things together to prevent their sound from having that “wallpaper” feel that I mentioned earlier. If you engage in an activity that requires you to put yourself in a certain place mentally and stay there (such as writing or painting), I highly recommend you check this one out.