Erin Wolf


By - Sep 1st, 2008 02:52 pm
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The avant-garde has always been the comfort zone for Stereolab, the lounge-y, psychedelic pop/rock outfit whose ardent fans are enamored with the untraditional krautrock sound, blending odd ‘60s-style department store music with fuzzy guitars, the famous ‘motorik’ time signature and the uninflected English/French vocals of Laetitia Sadier.

Sadier and co-writer Tim Gane have paired with string and brass arranger Sean O’Hagan (High Llamas) for this release – an odd melding of styles that is even more symphonic, pastoral and spritely than ever. Still, there’s not much differentiation from prior albums. Like a run-on sentence with a giant semicolon after 2004’s Margerine Eclipse, Chemical Compound jumps back into the same subjects and the same quirky song titles (“Cellulose Sunshine,” “Daisy Click Clack,” “Vortical Phonotheque” and “Neon Beanbag”) – a tribute to Gane’s eccentric, electronic, surrealisticdreamland mind.

Chemical Compound might be telltale, but it’s solid, with the excellent “Neon Beanbag” leading off the set, its fidgety organ buzzing insect-like in the background, the tempo uplifted into airy and snappy heights. The ore voluptuous, brass-induced follower, “Three Women,” is a brain re-charger after the nervous energy of the lead track. The rest of the CD equalizes itself in similar fashion, and its middle track “Valley Hi” possesses enough energy to carry the rest of the album, with bell-like guitars, uptempo percussion and a warbling but sturdy piano layer. Stereolab shouldn’t be faulted for not being innovative, but perhaps could be chastised for creating their own sticky mess by being too clever before their time and all too happy to stay put. Good for them that it doesn’t seem to be a conundrum, and good news for those who appreciate consistency.

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