Laetitia Sadier’s work with Stereolab has never shied away from experimentation and risk. Sadier and partner Tim Gane have made a career of marrying styles and sounds that many would never think a likely pairing; it is what they do best. Playing to her strong suite, Sadier doesn’t abandon her experimental yearnings on this side project, Monade. However, the result doesn’t come in the form of marrying styles and sounds but rather in her instrumentation and arrangements.
Sang partly in French and partly in English, Monade is an mélange of instruments and moods prepared in a martini shaker and exquisitely served in a stylish package; it is perfect for listening during those confusing early morning hours long after sleep should have come and before the party has worn down. This is no ordinary lounge trash, though — the type of stuff that adorns the shelves of struggling lounge goers or spins idly in the background of stuffy dinner parties with mediocre-at-best wine and not enough food. The music is laid back for sure, but not so much as to be ignored. Sadier’s work stands emotive and beautiful at the forefront of sparse arrangements and sweet melodies.
The French born vocalist and founding member of Stereolab, Laetitia Sadier began Monade in the mid-’90s as an informal side project. She and Rosie Cuckston of Pram recorded as a duo for six years before releasing their debut, Socialisme Ou Barbarie: The Bedroom Recordings. Because Monade choose to forgo the studio, some of the songs on the recording suffered were only partially formed and failed to get legs. On A Few Steps More Sadier has opted for a full band and proper studio (Stereolab’s own in Bordeaux, France) with great results.
Lest you think that employing a full band and studio will head Monade into the lush waters of Stereolab, rest assured that A Few Steps More remains far more organic and tactile than Stereolab’s work. On this latest release, Monade has replaced the solid electronic undercurrent that gives Stereolab a calculated, sometimes cold feeling with empty spaces, light instrumentation and minimalist percussion.
“Wash and Dance” opens the album with a warm vocals and horns mix accompanied by distinct bass and jazz drumming, then giving way to Sadier’s trademark French vocals. From the onset it’s evident that the recording process for A Few Steps More was far more considered than the sessions that made up Monade’s debut. Carefully played keys and organs filter in and out of the song’s broad arrangement. The title track similarly benefits from the full studio treatment. The track arcs over four-and-a half minutes, alternating styles and tempos regularly. Sadier is obviously no stranger to the benefits and pitfalls of the studio, and for most of the album she meticulously crafts dreamy lounge pop that is immediate and assertive without losing its laid back cool. Occasionally A Few Steps More slides into the murkier waters of sound and becomes bogged down by the drone of organs and sluggish tempos. “Das Kind”, despite its warm guitars, stagnates somewhat and never finds its way through its own dreamy haze and “Becoming” sounds an awful lot like a rogue experiment in melody, failing to develop and ultimately fizzling out.
Monade’s flaws are few and aren’t so grand as to significantly mar the album. To dissect the project as individual tracks is slightly unfair anyway. A Few Steps More is a cohesive record and meant to be enjoyed as such. It is a dreamy lounge escape that is engaging despite its laid back cool and will take you in as far you wish to go. Choose to throw it on in the background and you’ll not be disappointed; give it the full attention it deserves and you will be thoroughly impressed. Sadier’s vocals come to life against the backdrop of the subtle complexities of the arrangements and impressive playing.