A requiem for the space age, Garden of Fainting Stars completes Book of Knots' “By Sea, by Land, by Air” trilogy, which captured the hopes and dreams wrapped up in different forms of transportation. Where the massive layers of sound on their self-titled album echoed the huge ships that helped shrink the world in the heyday of seafaring, and Traineater's Americana leanings reflected the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building the U.S. railways, this set of songs is a rusty graveyard for humankind’s dreams of flight, and the combination of science and idealism that led to the belief that anything was possible. Fittingly, Garden of Fainting Stars sounds mechanical in an old-fashioned and malfunctioning way, with elements that evoke gears turning and pistons pumping, torn and corroded metal and short-circuiting electronics. “Microgravity” begins the album with an ode to space monkeys powered by dense vocal harmonies and clanging metallic chords; “Moondust Must”’s lyrics compare the Moon’s oceans to wine and its dust to gunpowder, conflating fairy tales with destructive potential. The band does a particularly vivid job of describing space’s vastness and chaos on “All This Nothing,” a panorama of echoing voices that suggests unanswered transmissions, and on “Nebula Rasa,” which repeats the phrase “It is a dead world” over storms of distortion. All of this is a far cry from Traineater's rustic songcraft; indeed, Garden of Fainting Stars may be the trilogy's most experimental installment, making it all the more apt that it was released by Ipecac Records. The most thrilling moments occur when Book of Knots throw caution and overt structures to the wind: “Lissajous Orbit” spans eerie strings, Aaron Lazar's nearly operatic vocals and disturbingly decayed vocoder in its trajectory. As with the group’s previous works, several well-chosen guest stars make cameos. Nervous Cabaret's Elyas Khan adds a caustic theatricality to the title track; Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld ruminates on class envy and ruined elegance on “Drosophila Melanogaster”’s long-distance flights; and Ipecac co-owner Mike Patton's powerful vocals seem to sing the universe into being (or destruction) on “Planemo.” Much like Jóhann Jóhannsson's trilogy of albums about the rise and fall of technology, the “By Sea, by Land, by Air” albums paint vivid portraits of ambition and folly; Garden of Fainting Stars might be the darkest and most difficult volume, but it's no less fascinating because of that.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares