Stereolab | Chemical Chords (4AD)

cd_stereolab.jpgA band once known for transient random noise bursts now seems more comfortable with occasional horn flourishes, harpsichord vamping and a slightly out of place disco/half disco.







Opening lines from previous drafts of this review:

1. Good evening, and welcome to Stereolab pharmaceuticals. It’s been quite some time since your last visit. Today we will administer a treatment using our newest technology, Chemical Chords. Expect this session to last 48 minutes, though it may seem longer at times. We hope that you find our latest efforts to manipulate the…

2. Ever since the bafflingly pleasant sound of Anna Karina’s "Sous le Soleil Exactement" first enticed ’60s subverts, francophile chic has been the silent obsession of many a young hipster…

What is it that has me thinking so hard? I just finished listening to three quarters of an hour of soothing, repetitive music. By any modern calculations, my mind should be mush. Very relaxed mush. But it isn’t. I’m overthinking everything. I’m wondering why I don’t feel the same way I do after listening to other Stereolab albums.

Maybe it’s because I last listened to Chemical Chords on my computer. And after thinking a few songs sounded eerily familiar, I realized I was three tracks into 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup. The consistency is remarkable. But it’s also disarming. There was never anything wrong with the previous sound, but it was fairly adventurous. This time around, the surprises are a bit tame, and there’s not nearly enough of them.

A band once known for transient random noise bursts now seems more comfortable with occasional horn flourishes ("Self Portrait With Electric Brain"), harpsichord vamping ("Cellulose Sunshine"), and a slightly out of place disco/half disco ("Nous Vous Demandons Pardon")

But, it’s not all bad. By ditching the din, Stereolab has come closer than ever to mastering martini music for beer people. While the lounge side of The Groop Played Space Age Bachelor Pad Music seemed like a bit of a stylistic misstep, it was enjoyable. And as the group further explored that sound, they perfected it. Chemical Chords furthers that perfection. It’s not as ear-openingly pleasant as previous efforts, but it’s better than a retread has any right to be. Plus, it’s impossible to resist the vocals. Even when they’re not in French, it’s hard not to want them to be.

The band stays true to their later style, but adds the occasional precious turn. Even with that, it’s a constant relief that there’s nothing kitschy about Stereolab’s modern retro sounds. And for anyone seeking the noisy stuff, take two minutes and 15 seconds of solace in the track "Pop Molecule." Just be ready for the brass- and string-laden pop pseudo stomp that follows. B+ | Gabe Bullard

RIYL: Late-period Stereolab, Belle and Sebastian, the country of France

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