Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Music Library: Stereolab

Stereolab! This is where indie rock reaches one of its logical peaks. They mixed punk, krautrock, French pop, electronica, lounge music, minimalist compositional music, VU-style drone, hip-hop, and tropicalia, basically every form of niche music with legs, into an always-interesting stew of musical greatness.

Early Drone: Switched On (compilation, 1991), Peng! (1992), The Groop Played Space Age Batchelor Pad Music EP (1993), and Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (1993). At this point, Stereolab was all about the VU and krautrock. Switched On collects two EPs and a single from 1991. Peng! is the first full-length, although the band was still a four-piece. Batchelor Pad Music is a long EP that showcases even more growth from the group. Transient Random-Noise adds Mary Hansen as a second vocalist and Sean O'Hagan (later of the High Llamas) on guitar, and the album culminates in the 18-minute "Jenny Ondioline" which is exactly the knife-edge of perfect fusion of krautrock propulsion and VU drone.

Everything At Once: Mars Audiac Quintet (1994), Refried Ectoplasm: Switched On Vol. 2 (compilation, 1992-95), Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996), Dots And Loops (1997), Aluminum Tunes: Switched On Vol. 3 (compilation, 1994-97), Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night (1999), The First Of The Microbe Hunters EP (2000), and ABC Music: The Radio 1 Sessions (live compilation, 1991-2001). The band added more and more sounds with every album. Mars Audiac Quintet is practically a Neu! album in places. Refried Ectoplasm rounds up a bunch of singles, including the excellent "John Cage Bubblegum." Emperor Tomato Ketchup is one of the finest albums made by anyone, anywhere. Dots And Loops throws in more Brazilian sounds. Aluminum Sounds collects more EPs and nonalbum tracks, but it also has the first signs of Stereolab's tendency to over-release. Some of these tracks are terrible, but some are great. Then there's Cobra And Phases, my least-favorite Stereolab album, which sounds fussy and undercooked. Microbe Hunters is much stronger. ABC Music collects a lot of Peel Sessions and other Radio 1 Sessions, and it cooks like nobody's business.

Things Grow Static And Fall Apart: Sound-Dust (2001), Margerine Eclipse (2004), Oscillons From The Anti-Sun (compilation, 1993-2005), Fab Four Suture (compilation, 2005-6), Chemical Chords (2008), and Not Music (2010). Sound-Dust has a little more life than Cobra And Phases, but Mary Hansen was killed in an accident the next year. Stereolab wasn't sure whether to go on without her for a while, but finally released Margerine Eclipse in 2004, mostly as an elegy to Hansen. Oscillons has B-sides and nonalbum tracks from all throughout Stereolab's career, and it is wonderful. Fab Four stitches together four EPs, all pretty good. Chemical Chords and Not Music, both recorded in the same 2007 sessions, are also quite good.


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