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 name, enigmatic title, 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. Fifteen years after the fact, original label Sedimental has remastered and re-released Music for Nitrous Oxide 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, soundbites, and other assorted sonic ephemera. What’s striking now about this early Stars of the Lid, 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. “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 dialogue from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Apocalypse Now, and random evangelists indelibly mark Music for Nitrous Oxide as a product of the ‘90s, this music otherwise sounds like it could have been recorded last week.