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Stereolab - Not Music


Not Music

(Drag City)

It is ironic that an album titled Not Music should carry with it so many different musical influences. With elements of krautrock, bossa nova, lounge, and electropop, London’s Stereolab have returned from a two-year hiatus to release a familiar-sounding yet expansive new album. After an unexpectedly short ”indefinite hiatus,” Not Music—recorded during the same sessions as their 2008 album Chemical Chords—delivers exactly what fans expect from Stereolab: mellow, smart music for essentially everyone.

Their customary sound of tight, intricate, Can-like krautrock rhythms joined by lounge pop keyboards and spectral, almost haunting vocals is still intact, though the range of dynamics has widened. “Two Finger Symphony” actually has the band approaching rock with powerful rolling piano lines that make room for twangy, oscillating guitar waves melting through the track while sleigh bells chime in rhythm grounding the beat. Every song moves within the established Stereolab construct, however the band elaborates on their touchstone sound—be it with the subtle horns and bells on “Supah Jaianto” or the tiny, bouncing keyboard tones on “Everybody’s Weird Except Me.”

The band pays such a precise attention to detail that it seems that things like structure and songwriting could have easily been thrown out the window, but this is not the case. The proof comes on tracks like “Sun Demon,” which starts off as a sun-drenched, guitar-driven pop track but slowly morphs key until a sudden right-angle turn introduces skipping, scene-setting lyrics. Unpredictable chord changes and the beautiful and alluring voice of French-born lead singer Lætitia Sadier create a satisfying maze of tones for the ear to travel through. “Equivalences”—a track that could fit snuggly on any Air album—demonstrates the influence of Sadier’s French upbringing and the band’s tendencies toward French electropop throughout the album. Surprisingly, the climax of the record comes not at the hands of Stereolab’s talented guitarist, multi-insturmentalist, and main man Tim Gane but instead at the hands of UK-based space-disco cadet, Andy Meecham, better known as the Emperor Machine. His 10-minute trance-disco remix of “Silver Sands,” a song plucked from the Chemical Chords sessions, was plopped directly in the middle of the album. At twice the length of any other track on Not Music, it is broken down into two movements that lean heavily on the Emperor Machine’s darker, synthesizer-based, sound signaling a break from Stereolab’s sweeter electronic lounge focus. As a whole, the album comes out on the lighter side, though, with few surprises except for the amount of sincere joy in their music.

cory perla

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