Critical Voices: Stereolab, Not Music


Stereolab is a band that has long defied convention. The lovechild of England’s Tim Gane and France’s Laetitia Sadier, the band has achieved great critical acclaim as one of the foremost members of the mid-90’s electronic indie music movement. Then, earlier this year, they decided to take an indefinite hiatus from their 20-year career. However, to appease disappointed fans, Stereolab have released one more LP, Not Music. The record is all new material compiled from songs they recorded during sessions for 2008’s Chemical Chords. Although it works as a memorial to the band, it does little in terms of originality or creativity.

To its credit, Not Music is actually a coherent record, rather than a jumbled patchwork of B-sides and throwaway tracks. The album is full of swanky electronic grooves drenched in reverb and flanging, especially on the funky track “Two Finger Symphony.” It’s like Stereolab is setting the soundtrack for a 1960s French cocktail party that may or may not be taking place underwater.

Sparse French and English vocals accompany rock-steady drum machines, highlighted by bubbly synth lines and shimmering vibraphones. The album also features two extended-mix tracks, “Silver Sands” and “Neon Beanbag,” each surpassing the five-minute mark with techno-like crescendos of hypnotic repetitions. Stereolab takes full advantage of ProTools’s loop function.

The album is almost an hour long, yet most of the tracks are the same tempo, with few variations in dynamics or instrumentation. This homogeneity makes for a daunting listening experience, as the album often drags, with simple verse-chorus patterns repeated countless times in each song. The sugary, fun dance tracks serve best as background music. The music itself is not as important as the vibe it emits.

But even though Not Music lacks any standout material, it works well as a parting gift from the band. First-timers will immediately feel the lighthearted energy of the music, and long-time fans will have one last record to play at their indie-dance parties.

Voice’s Choices: “Two Finger Symphony,” “Neon Beanbag,” “Silver Sands”

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Matthew Decker

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