Laetitia Sadier - "One Million Year Trip" (The Trip)
With the exception of Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops, nearly every album by Laetitia Sadier’s old band, Stereolab — now on indefinite hiatus — has met with ambivalent reviews. If, like me, you were late to the party, encountering negative reviews is disorienting: the band’s reputation throughout the ’90s seemed airtight. The Internet keeps saying that they spent too much time stuck in a comfortable rut, but it seems odd to complain about this while acknowledging Stereolab’s operative influences were krautrock and lounge. As a pop band whose music aspires to hypnotic, crisp repetition, it’s difficult to determine when sameness is a weakness or the point. Stereolab existed, it would seem, to make the world safe for Stereolab. Robert Christgau wrote them off with the tidy phrase Marxist background music, but it’s not as if many bands have the theoretical or musical chops to emulate the band.
Sadier has also released three albums as part of Monade, but she does not sound very different as a solo artist than she does as the member of a band. Her debut solo record, The Trip, sounds like an extension of the other records Sadier has appeared on, although the songs are more approximately played and less focused on airtight arrangements. The first song, “One Million Year Trip,” is cleverly written, giving the impression of ascending infinitely like an Escher staircase, with Sadier’s voice hitting a lot more notes than she usually does on a Stereolab track. Increased dynamic range also comes with awkward moments where her voice moves through a sour note, but the regular beat of a ring-modulated snare drum and tasteful, scattered sci-fi bloops keep the song from losing its shape.
Even if she doesn’t depart much from it, Sadier proves there’s still life in the Stereolab sound, a band whose problem wasn’t stagnating but refining itself into oblivion. Sadier isn’t as interested in fetishizing her own voice as Tim Gane was, so the big reveal here is that she doesn’t always have to sing like a francophile’s idea of an intellectual — she’s just as effective singing in a more traditionally narrative way over tracks that still feel rough and improvised. In its detached guise, her voice can be the perfect ornament for music obsessed with surface texture and pattern, but here it seems for the first time to be giving the music cues rather than floating on top of it, signifying and shit. “Statues Can Bend” is even a creepy ballad in which Sadier combines chanson and downer Radiohead tropes into something glum, autumnal and human, ripe for a Stuart Staples cameo. This singer-songwriter mode is a good look for Sadier, even though she relies on lyrics like “burning with sensooalitee.”
Sadier’s voice represents something about ‘90s music that hasn’t been picked up in the current wave of nostalgia, which makes it feel dated. That voice is so much the main character in everything she’s been involved with that it’s easy to miss her doing something new, like the moment when, oh snap, she’s suddenly in a Sebastian Tellier seducto-track (“Un Soir, Un Chien”). It also makes it easy to forget how strong the songs making up the album are. The Trip is casual, low-stakes pop that is easy to live with.