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Stereolab - Not Music

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Artist: Stereolab

Album: Not Music

Label: Drag City

Review date: Nov. 17, 2010

The party line on Stereolab has always been dependability. There was going to be something pleasant in each of their records, likely familiar to the reward sensors in your mind, no matter how many armchair critics tried to debunk the formula behind them. Everyone knew what they were getting into, why they were there, what might transpire once the door closed behind them and the hour-plus runtime was up.

Then it all stopped. Having soldiered on after the tragic death of vocalist Mary Hansen, Stereolab continued to make and release records that explored the sadness and resolve within them. This path led the group down some twistier paths on those last few records, particularly on the strange and fragmented Fab Four Suture, patiently awaiting rediscovery. Chemical Chords (2008) mitigated all of that strangeness with confident and brief pop songs that still maintained the bends of their later works. Not long after, the members announced that they were going on hiatus, but activity from the camp continues to surface; first, vocalist Laetitia Sadier’s solo album The Trip, and now with Not Music, comprised of recordings made during and after the Chords sessions.

“Everybody’s Weird Except Me,” with its chintzy Casio lead, starts off the collection with a childlike mania that makes for one of the most disorienting beginnings to any Stereolab record, but wait it out – Sadier’s background chant of “jah, jah, jah” and a melody that cops the piano bridge of Dave and Ansel Collins’ reggae crossover hit “Double Barrel” promise more adult sentiments on the way. In the same ways, the zany house of mirror synth blats and swirling jingle of “Leleklato Sugar” give way to a cooler, more urbane 4/4 pulse in the middle, before rushing back to the high street bells and whistles of its intro. This is a band that’s had to find ways to make all their cutesy turns interesting, and the choices they make suffuse the candy floss dressing with steel-cut substance.

Interesting, then, that Not Music’s centerpiece is a remix. Emperor Machine stretches Chords’ “Silver Stars” into a 10-minute race down the Autobahn – the first acknowledgement of Stereolab’s early Krautrock leanings in some time – before breaking into a brief blast of batucada, and closing with a serious strut through heavy cowbell disco. The melody is maintained, with the only difference between the two sections is a very pregnant pause added to the notes, the whole of robotic Europop from the ’70s lodged into one oversized chrome éclair.

Not Music also indulges the odder sides of Stereolab, sometimes to its detriment. “Pop Molecules (molecular pop 2)” flirts with a heaviness that doesn’t work with their M.O. one bit. Atlas Sound’s closing remix of “Neon Beanbag” will test even the most devout fan’s patience, an endlessly repetitive percussion loop decorated with about two seconds of Sadier’s vocals, spun out to a grating denouement. And though the second half of the album holds its own until these closing missteps, Not Music leaves you with the feeling that this is basically it, a worthwhile moving sale of a well-loved band’s last worthwhile moments on record. For now, this is the end, and it leaves you with the responsibility to figure out the rest, squelching and spinning out toward the ether, dependable no longer.

By Doug Mosurock

Other Reviews of Stereolab

Fab Four Suture

Serene Velocity

Chemical Chords

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View all articles by Doug Mosurock

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