Review : Stereolab - Not Music
PopmattersIn so many ways is Not Music a fitting curtain call for Stereolab. For starters, there’s the belated timing of the album’s release, which comes out more than a year after the band called it quits in early 2009—or, more accurately, went on “hiatus”, as its website puts it. The post-break-up release only reflects how, with the benefit of hindsight, the moment was never quite right for Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier, and whatever cohort of collaborators was playing with them: While that’s not to say almost all other indie groups wouldn’t love to achieve even a fraction of the band’s influence, acclaim, and success, Stereolab seemed to peak right before it could’ve hit it big, but had its window of opportunity close while still near the height of its creative powers. The future always seemed to hold such infinite commercial possibilities for the cutting-edge act, until time and trends passed Stereolab by.
That Not Music, a secret stash oh-so-Stereolab tunes recorded at the same time as 2008’s Chemical Chords, is being released almost as an afterthought with little fanfare is also indicative of the band’s reception over the years. For casual alterna-rock listeners, Stereolab would be a classic example of a band that many have heard of but not heard—or perhaps heard but not known they had heard. But even for serious fans, Stereolab was a band that could be underappreciated and even set aside when something shinier and newer came along, no matter how consistent and reliably outstanding it was for almost two decades.
But what’s most appropriate about Not Music is that captures many of the qualities that have defined Stereolab over the years, so stylish and creative in its aesthetic, yet so geekish and workmanlike in its approach to making music. Effortless as they might feel, Stereolab songs, even the deepest b-side grooves, never sound tossed off, and the tracks on Not Music are no exception. The new LP is particularly representative of the group’s later albums, which have fewer peaks but almost no valleys, with maybe not as much killer, but definitely no filler. Remember, too, that some of the best full-length offerings in the outfit’s expansive catalog are compilations of singles, bonus tracks, and random odds-‘n-sods, so there’s no chance that Stereolab is just going through the motions even on a batch of extras like Not Music, no matter when, where, and how it’s being released....full text
BbcStereolab signalled that they'd gone on indefinite hiatus a year and a half ago. Given the lack of innovation or progression shown by the group's recent recordings, this was seen to be something of a relief. So does the oddly titled Not Music hold any surprises? Yes and no: Stereolab's signature sound is very much present and correct, but this record doesn't sound like the last gasp of a long-lived and generally much-loved band. It's business as usual: sprightly, hummable and a lot of fun.
The level of energy apparent on Not Music can be explained by the fact that it was recorded long before the group's retirement in early 2009, with half of the sessions being released as Stereolab's previous album, Chemical Chords. Everybody's Weird Except Me sounds unsurprisingly like it was teleported straight from the 60s, Lætitia Sadier's winsome vocals drifting earnestly over the upbeat rhythms that unwind like busy clockwork. Equivalences is another soundtrack to a Nouvelle Vague film waiting to be made.
Silver Sands is Not Music's 10-minute centrepiece and it comes on like a Krautrock I Feel Love with a pulsing rhythm that wouldn't be amiss on a Neu! or La Dusseldorf album. At times, particularly early on, there are even hints of analogue heaven worthy of Kraftwerk circa Autobahn. Two Finger Symphony puts its digits to excellently catchy use, while Delugeoise intensifies the pace significantly.
The album concludes with an Atlas Sound remix of the deliciously titled Neon Beanbag, a thrumming whirl of a song that fittingly races to a standstill for nearly eight minutes. On the at times rambunctious evidence of this, Stereolab's 12th album, let's pray there'll be a 13th at some point in the not too distant future. If that doesn't prove to be the case, Not Music makes for a characteristically fine epitaph....full text
OnethirtybpmUsually, I would shy away from reviewing an album of semi-new material from a band with twenty-years of music under their belt if I didn’t have much experience with said band. But who does have a lot of experience listening to Stereolab? The group has made a career out of remaining on the fringe; having never lost their indie cred when they were on a major and now releasing an album a little more than a year after going on indefinite hiatus. But try to have an in-depth conversation with someone about Stereolab and you’ll get little idea of who they are and whether you would like them. Descriptions will mention kraut-rock, lounge and French, and you might hear something about Emperor Tomato Ketchup. I alone have tried to embrace the band on more than a dozen occasions, but found their music to always be better suited for the background than for undivided attention.
Not Music (don’t be fooled by the misleading title, it is totally music), unfortunately, is much of the same, or at least it is exactly what I expect a Stereolab album to sound like. It’s electronic driven but not dance music, it’s got well-trained multi-lingual vocals but it’s not pretty, and it is well-produced, well-executed and seems to accomplish its goals. But it is not very enjoyable.
Take “So Is Cardboard Clouds.” It feels like a smart song with key-riffs that march around in rapidly changing tones, drum beats that are jazzy and synth-pop-influenced (simultaneously), and vocals that hearken back to the ’70s on the other side of the Atlantic, the kind you imagine sung by a fashion model who will be dead in five years. So when I ask myself “who would actually enjoy listening to this,” my imagination deems musicians, maybe music students, some geeky music journalists even. Anyone who enjoys trying to spot influences from obscure musical movements that were mostly forgotten in the decades prior; this is their cup of tea. For the average listener, or even the above average listener, it is pleasant enough, but not engrossing. This illuminates Not Music’s biggest flaw, and perhaps the band’s. The music sounds emotional, and thus inspires ambivalence.
Songs like “Leklato Sugar” can incorporate lovely horns into their delicate rhythms and melodies, but still sound like music made by brilliant minds that fail to understand why I like music. The is a reason that music is considered an art and not a science, because even when the equation seems to be balanced, music demands non-quantifiable elements to be rewarding....full text
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