Monday, August 18

Stereolab Gets Spacy

Album: Chemical Chords

Comments: For a fan like me, every Stereolab release is like a debut: fresh, new, and alive. In reality, Stereolab has been making groovy music for more than a decade. Their polished sound, which combines meticulous Krautrock and smooth 60’s lounge pop, has a track record of influencing bands and fans alike. With Chemical Chords, Stereolab’s newest release, the band serves some mighty fine, mature tunes all tied up in a pretty rainbow colored bow.

Stereolab’s obsession with the future comes out with a vengeance on this album. Once the first note of the recording sounds with the effervescent “Neon Beanbag,” you feel like you’ve been instantly transported into an uninhabited time. Space surrounds you all shimmering and graceful, while you float around stars and other celestial beings in a poised manner, like you were queen or king of the planets. Everything comes to life right in front of your ears. Colors and shapes are splashed everywhere while you are in your finely tuned space suit. Chemical Chords is imagination being used at its finest.

From “Neon Beanbag” to “Three Women,” the language changes from English to French. The lead singer, as well as instrumentalist, Laetitia Sadier is bilingual. French can also be heard on a few other Chemical Chord tracks, just don’t ask me to translate what she is singing. “Three Women” is a charming song that is one of Stereolab’s rare straightforward pop tunes.

With Chemical Chords, there great tracks, then there are the OK ones. The great ones are total gems, introducing new arrangements and ideas, but then the others always seem to pale in comparison. The OK ones are fallbacks that can be found on any Stereolab album. But the good side is that there are only few of them, meaning two or three.

One of the great tracks is the precise, album-titled “Chemical Chords.” A short drumroll leads into an odyssey of spacey orchestral sounds. Sadier’s voice is gracefully echoed, while a beautiful string section gives “Chemical Chords” a whimsical touch, shifting this spacey song to more of a dreamy one.

The string section continues to lead, until met with the brassier “Self Portrait with 'electric brain'.” Horns chime in at perfect times, giving this jangly track a hint of well-deserved muscle.

Rounding out the album is the futuristic chamber pop “Nous Vous Demandons Pardon” or “We Ask for Your Forgiveness,” the coincidentally sunshine drenched “Cellulose Sunshine,” and the rather childish “Daisy Click Clack.”

The closing to this colorful journey is the more relaxed “Vortical Phonotheque.”. Soft synths and keys entwine together creating a somewhat saddened sound. A pedal controlled electric guitar creates a stream of light along with Sadier’s vocals. In a sudden manner, the song stops on a beat, leaving the listener hanging, but satisfied.

Chemical Chords is a sure treat for anyone who is looking for something new and accessible. The sound may seem complex, which it is, but after one or two listens the music clicks and becomes totally comprehensible.

-Erin Mae Szrainkowski

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks:
Neon Beanbag, Chemical Chords, Silver Sands, and Vortical Phonotheque

Buy, Skip, Steal: Buy

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