Music

Stereolab: Oscillons from the Anti-Sun

Michael Franco

Any Stereolab fan knows that the band's sound has morphed a million times, each time bringing in and incorporating more styles. This box set not only shows the band's mastery of these various styles, but also the stylish aplomb they radiate while creating pop treats.


Stereolab

Oscillons from the Anti-Sun

Label: Too Pure
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: 2005-04-25
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Of all the great bands to emerge from the '90s underground, Stereolab is damn near the top. Who else could meld Krautrock to bossa nova to dance to rock to lounge to jazz to orchestral music to soundtrack music to random-ass blips? Who else would have the nerve -- nay, balls -- to think that such an amalgamation could not only work, but also sound catchy in the way pop music should when everything works perfectly? And then there's Laetitia Sadier... Not to sound lecherous, but indie women who coo and purr Marxist lyrics (in French!) while giving that Susanna Hoffs-"Walk-Like-an-Egyptian" glare? Maybe I'm just a red-blooded, anti-capitalist male, but that appeals to me. A lot.

Then again, everything about Stereolab appeals to me, from their detached cool to their nonchalant sophistication. Somehow they manage to be simultaneously futuristic and retro, their space-age modernism layered in classic chic. How? And what may be most endearing yet infuriating of all is how casual and confident they look while producing pop gems by the album load. Take a look at the photos on their website; these folks look like models wearing cutesy clothes in the Target weekly, not crazed artists who arrange and rearrange a million seemingly disparate elements of a single song. Yet crazed artists they must be, for Stereolab are 15 years into their career and they've yet to put out an album that sinks below stellar. During their tenure, Stereolab have morphed from drone-rock Dadaists to Bacharachian popsters to theatrical composers -- and there are a dozen or so sub-phases within these phases. Don't let the Downey-fresh shirts fool you; these guys know what the hell they're doing.

Stereolab's latest release, Oscillons from the Anti-Sun, culls songs from the band's EPs and singles, stretching all the way back to the group's earliest incarnations and styles. Consisting of three CDs and one DVD, this box set is a must-have for longtime fans and an excellent starting point for recent converts. True, Stereolab is one of those bands that inspire fanatics rather than fans, so most followers will probably already have the songs on this collection. These three CDs, however, save the listener from having to search out the various songs among the EPs and singles; moreover, the DVD, which collects the band's videos and live performances on The Word and Later with Jools Holland, is enough incentive for serious collectors to purchase this set. Add to this an extremely low price of around $25 and you've got no real reason not to buy this collection.

Moreover, Oscillons does an excellent job representing the majority of Stereolab's career. The songs span most of the '90s, beginning with songs from 1993's Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements and ending with tracks from 1999's Free Design. Rather than taking a straight-forward chronological order, the track listing follows no apparent reasoning. Instead, the songs play like an iPod Shuffle loaded up with Stereolab songs, with familiar singles placed next to more obscure songs from EPs or B-sides. While some may find this sequencing confusing or frustrating, it serves to highlight an inescapable truth: no matter which lineup of the band or what group of influences at the time, Stereolab has consistently made infectious pop. Take an early track like "Jenny Ondioline", with its static-charged guitars and trance-inducing strumming and the much later "Les Aimies Des Memes", with its jazzy sophistication, and you'll notice some underlying similarities. While the group has dabbled in more genres than most people are even familiar with, they have followed a fairly standard formula: bubbly harmonies, catchy beats, and sunny melodies. Songs like "Miss Modular", from 1997's Dots and Loops and "Ping Pong", from 1994's Mars Audiac Quintet, effervesce out of the speaker, then bounce in the air right into your brain, where they will remain as long as you're sentient.

Indeed, what Oscillons mostly reveals is the undeniable genius of Stereolab, and the apparent ease with which they mix and match styles. "Pinball" sounds like the inside of an '80s Atari game -- all stuttering keyboards with laser sounds whizzing through the air. "Moodles" seamlessly blends drum loops with tingling piano and kitten-y harmonies, then segues into classic '70s game show music before switching to what sounds like an outtake from the Beach Boys' Smile; this is only the first half of the song. "The Noise of Carpet" mixes fuzzy, crunchy guitars with bouncy vocals and a solid rock beat. Any other band would be stupid to try to incorporate so many genres, but Stereolab have always known how to pull off the impossible, all the while setting the standard for stylish composure.

Oscillons from the Anti-Sun is nothing short of a treasure for new and old Stereolab fans. And even if you like seeking out these pop treats on vinyl and rare releases, surely you must be grateful that they're all available as a single collection, ready for play without repeated trips to the stereo or computer. Normally, when a band begins to cull songs from their career, they have either reached an apex in their career, or they are considering the end. Here's hoping that Stereolab doesn't fall into either category; as Oscillons proves, even the scrappy odds and ends of their career are endlessly more fascinating than the best songs of many other bands.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image