The Dead Texan: The Dead Texan

Appearances truly can be deceiving. While The Dead Texan's cover illustration is appealing enough and song titles like “Glen's Goo” and “When I See Scissors I Can't Help But Think of You” elicit their fair share of curiosity, they hardly suggest the recording's disarmingly lovely music. As it turns out, The Dead Texan is a single figure yet, in another sense, two: single, if one counts only the compact disc's eleven tracks by Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid); two, if one includes the half hour DVD containing seven video segments of animation and tranquil footage created by Wiltzie and video artist Christina Vantzos. (In the DVD's absence, the remaining comments concern the music alone.) In Wiltzie's meditative chamber vignettes, piano and strings dominate, making for a minimal and often delicate instrumental palette. The typically sombre mood evokes the spirit of Labradford and the more ambient passages suggest traces of Eno.

A portentous mood is established at the outset by “The Six Million Dollar Sandwich” where pensive string clusters rise like slow motion bubbles to a pond's surface. In “Glen's Goo,” those same string clusters appear again, but this time overlaid by a somber electric piano theme, a guitar's dramatic etchings, and a brief duet of hushed male and female vocals. Broad vistas of synth tones and strings appear in “A Chronicle of Early Failures - Part 2” to mesmerizing effect, whereas surging string tones, portentous piano tinklings, and reverberant percussive accents nurture a mood of controlled dread throughout “When I See Scissors I Can't Help But Think of You.” Accompanying the deep strings in “Beatrice Part 2” are swooping smears of steel guitars that strengthen the evocation of broad expanses. Compared to these more developed pieces, “Aegina Airlines,” “Taco de Macque,” and “Girth Rides a (Horse) +” seem more like ambient vignettes of idiosyncratic character. “Taco de Macque,” for instance, situates a plaintive male voice (“I feel sorry for you kid…”) amidst rumbling plains while “Aegina Airlines” surrounds faded piano reverie with industrial clanks.

That Wiltzie has been living in Brussels, Belgium for the past few years might offer some explanation for the European cinematic feel that haunts these pieces; obviously a song title like “La Ballade d'Alain Georges” makes the connection overt with its reference to the 1940s French actor. The Dead Texan is reminiscent of Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks in that both favour a quasi-classical piano-based instrumental style, yet Wiltzie's music is more ambient in character, much like a soundtrack for footage of immense, desolate landscapes. Regardless of the interpretations one brings to bear upon it, The Dead Texan remains a remarkably subtle and tranquil work.

September 2004