[16 September 2005]
Being a Stereolab fan requires work. With the exception of Guided by Voices, perhaps no other band has taken such delight in releasing so many singles and EPs between proper albums. Perhaps this is why the band produces fanatics rather than mere fans. To stay atop of the band’s output, one has to invest a significant amount of time, money, and effort, constantly checking the band’s website to see when yet another stray end of genius will drop. Indeed, in the band’s 14-year career, they have released an astonishing 13 LPs, eight EPs, and 11 singles. Add to this that some of these releases were only offered on vinyl and in limited quantities and you have a collector’s dream. You also have the makings of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Then again, fanatically searching out and collecting all the assorted odds and ends of Stereolab’s career sure tops collecting ceramic roosters to display in your kitchen, right?
Adding to their amazing and bewildering catalogue, Stereolab are simultaneously releasing three new singles. And, if the thought of three new Stereolab singles isn’t enough to send the average fan/addict into a hipster frenzy, the songs will be available in those two most sacred of formats: vinyl and download. Are you still in your seat? Didn’t think so. All of this is great news for the band’s following. After all, most bands do not last as long as Stereolab, and those that do often suffer from a reduced output—both in number and quality of releases. Moreover, when key member Mary Hansen died in late 2002 from a bicycle accident, many wondered if the band could forge ahead; if they did, would the quality of their output measure up to the ridiculously-high standard the band created for not only themselves, but also for everybody else? The answer, without qualification, is yes.
“Kybernetická Babicka Part 1”, the first single, illustrates both the band’s playfulness and endless fascination with merging musical styles. Taking the repetitive drone from their early days and mixing it with the Brian Wilson-isms of their later work, the song induces thoughts of elves working feverishly to meet the Christmas deadline. As the marching chord progression and beat repeat themselves over and over and over, a chorus of voices sings notes in the background. The song doesn’t contain any words and doesn’t go anywhere but back to the beginning; nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable song that reveals subtle nuances with repeated listens. “Plastic Mile” evokes the group’s repeated forays into lounge, jazz, and orchestral music. As horns softly swell and then disappear, Laetitia Sadier softly sighs lyrics that slide over the music. What she’s saying is anyone’s guess, but those familiar with her style know it’s all in the delivery. Sadier sounds like a ‘60s chanteuse, her voice equal parts Spector and Bacharach, a sensuous meld of girl group innocence and loungy sophistication. While the song doesn’t break any new ground, that’s no big complaint: Stereolab have pretty much covered the whole spectrum of pop music anyways—fiddles aside. Finally, “Interlock” sounds like what Belle and Sebastian have recently tried to pull off, but the result is more cohesive. Combining ‘60s jazz horns with kitschy synthesizers, the song is simultaneously retro and modern. Imagine a song featured in an Old Navy commercial, remove all the insincere irony, and you’ve got the idea.
With these three new singles, Stereolab once again defy all the rules experience has taught us about pop music. Running through and grafting diverse styles with ease, they continue to not only be relevant, but also at the forefront of indie music. While most aging bands stick to tried and safe ground, Stereolab seem determined to continuously explore and expand the boundaries of pop music. With more material slated for release in early 2006 (waiting more than few months would be unthinkable!), Stereolab are proving that age need not mellow creativity.