Brian McBride, the influential ambient musician who was one half of the duo Stars of the Lid, has died, his label Kranky confirmed to Pitchfork. “I am deeply saddened to tell everyone that Brian McBride has passed away. I loved this guy & he will be missed,” the band wrote on Instagram. The cause of death has not been shared. McBride was 53 years old.
McBride had a massive impact on generations of ambient and electronic artists through his work in Stars of the Lid. After moving to Austin, Texas in 1990, he met his soon-to-be bandmate Adam Wiltzie and the two formed Stars of the Lid in 1993. Drawing inspiration from Brian Eno, Arvo Pärt, and Talk Talk, the duo incorporated guitars, piano, strings, and horns into their music for classical-inspired drone. Though minimal in sound, Stars of the Lid would sample unexpected source material in their songs, too, ranging from Wiltzie’s pet dog Frog to an unassuming phone ring in Twin Peaks.
Stars of the Lid spent two years recording their debut album, 1995’s Music for Nitrous Oxide, alongside musician Kirk Laktas. Though Laktas parted ways, McBride and Wiltzie continued with four albums in a row for each following year: 1996’s Gravitational Pull vs. the Desire for an Aquatic Life, 1997’s The Ballasted Orchestra, 1998’s Per Aspera Ad Astra, and 1999’s Avec Laudenum. The bands final two albums, 2001’s The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid and 2007’s And Their Refinement of the Decline, would become their most famous LPs. Although the latter ultimately served as Stars of the Lid’s final studio album, the duo has since played a handful of shows over the past decade, including a few rare shows in 2012 and a Sigur Rós-curated festival set.
Stars of the Lid created their later discography separately from one another. For The Tired Sounds of…, McBride sent DAT tapes in the mail from Chicago while Wiltzie was rooted in Austin. That method allowed both musicians to reflect on the other member’s contributions at a relaxed pace, making for more deliberate decisions on how to progress the song or ideas further. By the time they started writing And Their Refinement of the Decline, McBride lived in Los Angeles and Wiltzie moved to Belgium, so the duo tried using more digital recording methods.
“Working on the music, for me, it’s kind of important to not fake it in some ways, to not try to force this emotional state out of it, to sort of pay attention to what’s going on in your life, if you’re feeling inspired or motivated just letting it happen,” McBride told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Especially after you’ve released a bunch of records for a long time, you don’t want to manufacture longing.”