The Dead Texan was a collaborative project from Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie and audio-visual artist Christina Vantzou, that released one album back in 2004. Not much needs to be said about Stars of the Lid, being one of the more infamous groups in the ambient scene, but while Christina Vantzou has now gone on to become one of my favourite ambient artists in her own right after releasing three albums under her own name, this collaboration was her first release. The music was mostly written by Wiltzie, with Vantzou creating music videos released on a separate DVD, but did have some musical input on a few of the tracks, though it bears little resemblance to the minimalist chamber-music of her solo career. While they are now both well known for their separate projects, this great release of ambient music is different to either of them, and is a great release in its own right that unfairly never seemed to get as much love as their other works.
Though The Dead Texan do borrow from Stars of the Lid’s long-form guitar based drones and soundscapes, the music on the Dead Texan is a lot different, being less minimalist and more explorative, with a lot of variety between pieces. The wistfully melancholic piano melody, understated lead guitar and Vantzou’s soft breezy vocals on Glen’s Goo give an extra dimension to the soft drones that provide the backdrop to the whole soundscape in the album’s best piece. A Chronicle of Early Failures part 1 uses oddly timed acoustic guitar strums in parallel with piano and an ever present but understated backing drone to create a dark and bleak melancholic sound, while the shimmering mellotron and emphatic piano playing intertwine beautifully with a crescendo of strings in a lovely warm piece. Even though Wiltzie does sometimes fall back into the dreamy, relaxed ambience of Stars of the Lid’s guitar drones and swells of strings, he never lets these parts draw out long enough that it just feels like Stars of the Lid under a different name, using vocals, piano, samples and more traditional guitar playing to expand on his sound. That’s not to say that it’s not still minimalist, it’s by no means a kitchen sink approach, and it’s still relaxing meditative music you could bliss out too, but there’s also a lot to reward active listening. The mood is more melancholic throughout than the dreamy music of Stars of the Lid, perhaps due to the music being more concrete and structured than his main project, more deliberate in Wiltzie’s emotional delivery.
Stars of the Lid and Vantzou’s solo albums may be more well known and popular than this 2004 collaboration, but it’s one that fans of minimalist ambient need to hear, and one I would go as far to say is even more essential than some of Stars of the Lid’s earlier albums, fitting right up there with their greatest works The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid & And Their Refinement of the Decline. Thoroughly beautiful and moving.