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.