on 19 December 2010
Typical stuff from Stereolab, i.e. excellent, floaty, dreamy, twisted pop rhythms. Nothing much different from the last few Stereolab albums perhaps, indeed this "album" is actually 12 tracks from the sessions that produced their last album, Chemical Chords. However, none of that is to say that it is not a very good record. Filled with typical Stereolab rhythms, complemented excellently by Laetitia's beautiful golden voice. Not likely to bring in many new converts to Stereolab, it will definitely appease existing fans, who wait anxiously to see if their self-imposed hiatus will end. A class act.
on 12 January 2011
I went to Laetitia's gig in Southampton UK (not the greatest venue for her melancholy solo stuff but she stood on that stage like an angel on a pile of dung) and she spoke to me afterwards. She had to, I insisted. As she produced her CDs from a case I gushed and blushed like a twelve year old at a Beatles concert in the early sixties. She commiserated when I failed to get a photo with her due to flash failure and she didn't seem to mind when I declined to buy a CD because I already had one. She was incredibly charming and funny and managed to make me feel like I was behaving completely normally. My point being there was a nucleus of cool professional distance about Laetitia that for me epitomises the Stereolab sound - Not Music being no exception.
Not Music creates distance with its effortless precision rhythms and a voice that seems to be floating down from some celestial stratosphere. Effortless. (You get the impression Stereolab could play for a week straight without breaking a sweat. You don't find yourself imagining any long haired gasper in sleeveless T-shirt sweatily pummelling their drum set, nor in your mind's eye do you see a furrow browed numpty with protruding tongue anxiously awaiting the tricky bit on their synth. No way would you be waiting for Laetitia to belt one out a la some X factor shouter.) Effortlessness = cool in my opinion and the cool creates the distance because cool is always unstudied and out of reach.
Effortless, though? Of course not. There is a lot of effort here, what you would expect from a band that makes sure you get your money's worth. There is a denseness that at first makes you think "what's going on here then? I don't understand it yet but I like it." You have to go back and go back to it and unpick. There's the complicated rhythms to keep your feet tapping and your head nodding, there's the tunes, the melodies, the hum-alongs. Then there's the hooks and the loops, the blips and the beeps. There's the surprising tempo changes, the droning white space where you can reflect for a while before it all starts again. There's the bits that make you go 'Ahh". And that should be enough, but it's not because then you can start to think about the song titles and the lyrics and you will eventually decide that maybe you ought to try writing some poetry.
Despite being the band's umpteenth album Not Music sounds nose in rose fresh. You may go "oh, that bit reminds me of when they..." or "doesn't that sound a lot like..." or whatever, but none of that bothers me in the slightest. All art is derivative, it has to be or you would get nowhere and Stereolab tug the past along in their slipstream as their nosecone ploughs red hot into the future.
The Trip is great too by the way. You can't buy this and not that, no way.
on 1 December 2014
Not Music, recorded in the 2007 sessions that spawned Chemical Chords, evokes both the must-get-there intent, speed and relentless rhythm of a European summer car journey - as well as the fun and frivolity to be had at the final holiday destination. Add in a twist of b-movie sci-fi soundtrack a la Cabaret Voltaire and you will discover that Not Music continues Stereolab’s trademark juxtaposition and occasional meshing of late ‘60s Bacharach- inspired horn-laden west coast pop (only the backing singers are missing) with 1970s Kraut Rock and 1950s horror film alien invasion soundtrack.
The first five tracks mainly consist of rhythmic, synth-underscored, punching basslines with occasional pops and breaks as if they’ve hit a pot hole in a Polish road (or a UK one for that matter). With frequent pace changes, interjecting horns and jangling guitar, occasionally punctuated by the soft, lilting Lorelei-like vocals of Laetitia Sadier, tracks like Everybody's Weird Except Me, So is Cardboard Clouds (Sadier sings of “joy and freedom”) and the instrumental Equivalences (complete with submarine “pings”) evoke the sun-baked joyful spirit of a top-down convertible jaunt along the French Riviera. Each track speeds up, slows down as if taking a hair pin, then a change of gear, the horns kick in and off we go on our journey again. You can imagine Sadier, head-scarfed and sunglassed, joyously waving her arms in the back seat, as Stereolab nurdle and speed their way along the Bacharach coast road to their final destination. Along the way they stop and pay homage to the 1950s Japanese superhero, on Supah Jaianto (or Supergiant), he who was composed of steel, and highly resistant to damage, with a capacity for interstellar flight. He doesn’t seem out of place with the mood.
After track five, there’s a metaphorical flip in style, as if we’ve unwittingly got up and turned the record over. The next track is the stand-out 10 minute remix of Silver Sands which appears to blend in samples of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn with the same band’s Trans Europe Express. This finds Stereolab in top form as they discernibly shift the travel beat from tarmac onto rail - – epitomising their willingness to travel on different stylistic beats as they please - and then finishing with TEE’s similar rising, uplifting sense of nearing destination. It’s less “intricate and delicate”, more Kling Klang.
Two-fingered symphony, that follows, is Sadier’s only obviously political lyric, as she sings of corruption and delusion in the Square Mile. This is followed by Sun Demons and Aelita In the former, Sadier sings of sitting on a Parisian street corner, noticing the absence of movement in the city. “Where is the noise, confusion, bustle, and hustle, that one would associate with the big city?” How ironic, perhaps everyone has gone to the riviera. ….
For a bunch of songs that were recorded back in 2007, and apparently left to fester in the band’s vaults, Not Music doesn’t have the feel of an in-between album of odds and ends. No, Stereolab, swerve, stop and start and beat a rhythm deftly around their triple themes of lounge, sci-fi and Kraut Rock. Somehow, they manage to pull it off - and it’s both welcome and refreshing. Not Music deserves to see the light of the day. Start the Stereolab car. I’ve got that Europe Endless feeling.