When listening to Stereolab, my mind always travels back to that great moment when Caroline Fordis walks into the record store in High Fidelity to interview Rob Gordon. That brief snippet of sound highlighted their electronic influences, as well as their abilities to capitalize on fans of pop music, despite using inaudible, or non-English–if you will–, lyrics.
Years later, I still hold onto that purest of moments when I realized that their music had somehow become easily accessible to the masses. For me, this was not a knock, but a step in the direction you felt that they were going. Popularity on the brink, they kind of suck back a bit, coming back from time to time for their adoring fans.
On this new record, their first LP since 2006, they come back with the same formula. Their complex structure melding electronic pop gems with simple string arrangements and cloudy vocals is still completely intact, which may or may not be such a positive thing. I’m not the ultimate collector of Stereolab LPs, but I swear that I’ve heard all these songs a million times over. There are absolutely some special moments, like the opener, “Neon Beanbag,” with its spectacular electric organ work, not to mention its use of English. “Silver Sands” is equally as beautiful, with its marching beats and usage of horn work.
Still, one of the issues I’ve always had with the band is that they vocals are never really clear enough to capture your mind. This time around, they use a lot more English, but the vocals are almost secondary, seemingly meant to match every single one of their harmonies. It works, but it leaves those searching for a connection to the lyrics without much to hold onto.
By the end of the album, the music sort of blends into the back of your brain, as the formula grows to be overly repetitive. Some of the songs even appear as if they were mere copies of the previous tracks, leaving the listener with the feeling that they’ve been listening to a collection of demos for the same song over and over.
Ups and downs. That is the secret to this entire album. You go up with some highlights, then return to the Earth with a sense that its all been done before. At the end of the day, it is undeniably a Stereolab record, but that is what you were expecting in the first place. Those of you looking for that moment of twee pop will find places to reside, while others will just pass by on a brief vacation through Chemical Chords.