A hypnotic bass-drum-keyboard groove introduces me to this very interesting 90’s group. Part Neu!, part pop, part French, part prog, Stereolab sound like nothing else you might have heard recently. It’s not a kick to the sternum like Muse, but as far as original and eccentric British groups go, they’re up there, filling the air with their Dido-like vocals and repetitive grooves. Excellent.
For those who are interested, I suggest you explore British indie music. They come up with very fascinating pieces of music that lie more at the cross sections of genres and in the realm of lets-see-what-happens mash ups than starting at a genre and working from there. This one at its best tends to sound most like The Beatles at their Sgt. Pepper days (Notice I don’t say ‘Sgt. Pepper heights’ as I think they peaked in the White Album). Sample the psychedelic-electronica that is “Sudden Stars”. The chords are kinda Beatle-y as well. Watch out for the very complex-yet danceable drum pattern as well.
And then the slightly more deranged things start. Perpetual keyboards. Whimsical sounding basslines. And time-signature changes. SO MANY time signature changes. “Cosmic Country Noir” and “La Demeure” leave me in no doubt about these guys not wanting to do that which has already been done. This is interesting music. Worth coming back to. Again and again. Especially the excellent “Cosmic Country”.
One common thread among all these songs are the relatively high-pitched, thumpy, mobile basslines by I don’t know who. Their thumpiness goes well with the subdued rhythms of the drummer and contrasts with the sustained keyboards. They are often the most catchy and memorable parts of the songs, as the vocal melodies or guitar work aren’t catchy at all. They prefer to float over the rhythms, providing the multiple atmosphere changes that are characteristic of Stereolab. Very interesting. Sample “Margerine Melodie”. Sounds like the love child of Squarepusher, Jamiroquai and yes, The Beatles.
Now, we come to what I as a first timer think are the polarizing issues. French lyrics and the singing. Yes or no?
Well, no. I don’t always like the singer. The French is OK, but I think a bit too try-hard at roping in a Francophile and pseudo-intellectual audience. That’s one problem. The other problem is that amid the changing structures and mad harmonies, the one thing I hope to latch on to are strong vocals. Unfortunately, the vocals here are rather weak, sounding like Dido without the character, choosing to float over the music with not very captivating results.
This fault aside, Stereolab are good. They are fresh, sound genuinely indie and are musically very interesting. This sounds right.
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