Stereolab did almost the unthinkable—the band took a break. It’s been two years since Dots and Loops, but the hiatus has done nothing to warm up Stereolab’s ice-cool sound. The basic recipe is still loungey post-rock obsessed with sophisticated soundscapes, though Cobra and Phases has a much stronger free jazz feel than any of the previous recordings. Jim O’Rourke (known for his work with Faust, Oval and Sonic Youth) also joins Tortoise’s John McEntire behind the production board. The result is a collage mixing ‘60s jazz, French pop, ambient, and O’Rourke’s gorgeous string arrangements.
Cobra and Phases is not without its problems, however. Several of these songs feel too much like uncompleted thoughts—fragments with a couple of interesting ideas that aren’t fully developed. “Italian Shoes” is one of the prime perpetrators. The droning, ethereal singing of “da da de doms” over ambient sounds is far from compelling for the first two minutes, but once the tempo picks up half way through with a swarm of jazzy beats and blips, things start to improve. Cobra and Phases is rather like a good magazine with tantalizing pieces here and there rather than the great novel you can’t put down until you’re read every last word from cover to cover.