Like a hot half-wit, the thought of Stereolab is more rousing than the band itself. Sunlit jazz junk, waking dreams of Gary Numan's wires, thinly veiled Marxist propaganda intoned breathlessly, mellifluously en Français by a naughty librarianfor pinko commie bastards like us, what's not to like?
The triumph of atmosphere over drama, for one thing. No other alt-band has manufactured as gilded a monument to the self from the cheap ingredients of polyester jingles, monochromatic orchestration, and affected apathy as Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier's quartet. Avoiding direct contact with Mainstreamerica while regularly dropping discs large and small onto hungry stateside hipsters like boxes of UNICEF rice, Stereolab have neatly preserved their reign of decency since forming 15 years ago.
A compilation of three limited 7-inchers released last September, plus three additional platters and some stuff from 2005, Fab Four Suture finds the London-based outfit's loopy buoyancy inviolate. Bookended by a hypnotic ditty, the 10 tracks look better from a distance, where a lot of the apportioned gems in the Technicolor mosaic spring into focus. The effervescent, mercurial stickwork in "Vodiak" flat-out cooks, hammering neatly and quickly over the band's predilection for florid sonic wallpaper the welcome influence of house music. Equally groovy are the pulse of a Casio (set to "samba") beneath "Excursions Into 'Oh, A-Oh,' " the Blood, Sweat, and Tears that went into the brassy "Interlock" (whose ending is foreshadowed by the haunting interjection of foggy skins, two dutiful bass notes, and the loud whisper of digitally simulated wind), and the overdubbed call-and-response between Sadier and herself in "Get a Shot of the Refrigerator" that more resembles slick electronic-woodwind decoration than the handiwork of mere mortal pipes. The age of the careerist musician now has its soundtrack.
Fab Four Suture
SXSW 2006: The Pre-Game Picture
by Kevin John
Stereolab play Town Hall March 17.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.