Reviews

Stereolab

Tyler Wilcox

In concert, Stereolab’s songs really came alive, providing proof that the band remains one of the most reliable live acts around.

Stereolab

Stereolab

City: Denver, CO
Venue: The Gothic Theater
Date: 2008-10-14

Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier might be her own worst critic. “I had issues with (the band’s latest release, Chemical Chords’) production, with how it was mixed, how there's very little air and ba-donk, ba-donk, ba-donk all the way through practically,” she told the Village Voice a few weeks back. “But live? It's a beautiful work.” While I might not agree with her assessment of Chemical Chords -- it’s probably Stereolab’s best record this decade -- I’d have to agree that in concert the songs really came alive, providing proof that the band remains one of the most reliable live acts around. Sadier was pulling double-duty this evening, with her side project Monade in the opening act slot. Because she’s got that distinctively smoky, French-accented voice, any band that features her lead vocals is going to sound at least to some extent like Stereolab. And Monade’s music, with its mixture of krautrock locomotion and tricky time signatures isn’t radically different from what the ‘Lab has been doing for the past 15 years. But the slightly less cluttered arrangements -- there’s definitely more “air” in this band -- and bouncy bass lines supplied by the pixie-ish Marie Merlet kept Monade’s set from being redundant. On the contrary, it was a perfectly complementary appetizer before the entrée. After a quick wardrobe change, Sadier was back onstage, this time with her Stereolab co-conspirator Tim Gane and company. Almost instantly, one was reminded of something that doesn’t always come across on the band’s records: Stereolab is kind of a dance band. No matter how many reviews describe them as “chilly” or “detached” the band’s music has always been rooted in propulsive rhythm -- hey, let’s go a step further and call it “funky.” When Stereolab kicked off the new record’s buoyant “Three Women”, it sounded unmistakably like a vintage Motown track, even without the soulful horn stabs that are featured on the studio version. At the Gothic, drummer Andy Ramsay was the engine of the whole set, with his crisp, locked-in beats keeping the music bright and the audience moving. “We have a lot of dancers in the crowd!” Sadier remarked at one point, sounding slightly surprised. She shouldn’t have been, since she could barely stop dancing herself. Sadier’s a great performer -- whether shaking a tambourine, hitting every note perfectly or plunking on her keyboard, she effortlessly commanded the stage, providing a focus point for an otherwise not super-exciting band in visual terms. Tim Gane, on the other hand, spent the night tucked away in the corner, strumming his guitar, expressionless and motionless for the most part. Gane may be the primary creative force (musically, at least) of Stereolab, but he doesn’t seem remotely interested in the spotlight that could be rightfully his. Occasionally he’d toss his head from side to side during a musical climax, but otherwise he was barely noticeable. One of those musical climaxes came early on in the set, during “Lo Boob Oscillator”, as the band shifted gears from a laconic Velvet-y strum to a full on “Hallo Gallo” workout, paying fitting tribute to the recently departed Neu!/Krafwerk drummer Klaus Dinger, one of Stereolab’s formative influences. A lot of bands have borrowed Dinger’s pioneering motorik beat over the years, but Stereolab remains one of the best -- if not the best -- of the borrowers. The band seems to understand that it’s not just about robotic tightness -- it’s about pulse, about heartbeat. It’s a human rhythm, in other words. As Ramsay and bassist Simon Johns locked into the hypnotic groove, the keyboards and guitars swirled around the room magnificently, the song stretching out past the ten-minute mark. Throughout the show, Stereolab made the creation of such an amazing sound look exceedingly easy. All in a day’s work, I suppose. The night concluded with another epic psych-jam, this time on the song “Stomach Worm”, plucked from the band’s first album Peng!. Stereolab has come along way since those early days -- musically and personally -- but as their wall of buzzing sound rose and fell, one could only feel thankful that such a wonderful and unique band has pressed on through the years. Vive le Stereolab!

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image