Duophonic UHF Disks
Although synth-infused indie-rock has only really come into its own as a genre over the past few years, Stereolab has been doing it well for the past two decades. Stereolab is on hiatus now, but that hasn’t stopped the band from releasing music.
Precise, playful, quirky, melancholic, vibrant, morose, funky, French: Stereolab’s music, including Not Music, the band’s newest release, which was recorded in 2007, is all of these and more.
Stereolab has always had a penchant for mixing and matching moods, often juxtaposing modest, happy sounds with powerful philosophical musings. On album opener Everybody’s Weird Except Me, Laetitia Sadier’s voice, oozing elegance, cuts across smooth synths and springy guitars to deliver the message that a real truth must be learned firsthand, that words alone cannot express it: “It’s just not fixed in the head.”
The music here is at times simple, at others complex, but always sophisticated. On So Is Cardboard Clouds, a simple progression is snipped into pieces by a machine gun snare roll, building to a climax marked by a repetitive drum break atop which staccato horn blasts are fused with droning synths.
The album’s best track may be the instrumental Equivalences, which is beautifully produced, with dual basses panned left and right, clever reverb guitar and a haunting organ.
It will be hard to displace such classic albums as Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops in the hearts of fans, and for good reason, but Not Music is in many ways an improvement upon those works. Better production values, greater attention to detail, and a more mature approach to music making are the sort of developments that often rob a band of its creative spark, but in Stereolab’s case, they only accent it.
In 2004, Swedish pop star Robyn faced a decision: alter her artistic vision to suit that of her record label, Jive Records, or strike off on her own with the electro-pop sound she was keen to develop. She chose freedom and her next release, Robyn, was not only a No. 1 album in Sweden but also drew enthusiastic reviews from critics.
After a series of collaborations, including a track with legendary house music duo Bassment Jaxx and a turn supporting Madonna during the European leg of her Sticky and Sweet Tour, Robyn announced her unusual plan to release three albums this year, named Body Talk Parts 1, 2 and 3. Body Talk is a sort of compilation of these releases.
This is club music the way it should be: syrupy sweet in all the right places, but with an edge that sets it apart from the pack. On Get Myself Together, for instance, Robyn shows she isn’t afraid of a little dissonance, as detuned synthesizers are brought into the fold of what would otherwise be a run-of-the mill pop chorus.
This balance is present everywhere on Body Talk. Even at its worst, it is quite good. A Swedish pop star exploring dancehall music doesn’t sound like something anyone would ever want to hear, but Dancehall Queen works well as comic relief. The familiar skanky reggae guitar sounds are all synthesized here, sounding fresh and bouncy, and one can’t help but crack a grin as Robyn does her best ragga impression: “Rhythm goes boom, boom, boom.”
Danger Mouse’s Grey Album notwithstanding, I admit a certain distaste for grandiose mash-up albums, which is probably why it’s taken me so long to find Girl Talk, the stage name of DJ Gregg Gillis. All Day, his fifth studio album, is a schizophrenic whirlwind of pop culture.