An Electronic Epitaph
Stereolab’s tenth album Not Music is quite obviously music, and it’s pretty decent too. While the tracks were recorded at the same time as 2008’s Chemical Clouds, the band released Not Music a year later, after they announced their indefinite hiatus in 2009. This explains the similarities in sound (and tracklists) between the two—there’s nothing shocking or unexpected on Not Music. It’s the same synth-laden pop Stereolab has been pumping out since Tim Gane and vocalist Laetitia Sadier first came together two decades ago.
“Everybody’s Weird Except Me” hops and unwinds with a sprightly retro beat, its lounge-pop blending just right with Gane’s light crooning. It feels simultaneously off-the-cuff and perfectly constructed, effortless and thoroughly composed.
Stereolab have a knack for creating rich melodic arrangements as in “Supah Jalanto,” where light, jazzy horns blend into layers of synths and bouncing singsong vocals. It’s a sound at once futuristic and reminiscent of ’60s pop, combining vintage electronic instruments and the influences of krautrock. “Equivalences” and Emperor Machine’s remix of “Silver Sands” bring out driving, repetitive motorik beats with heavy basslines and instrumental jaunts.
Sadier comes in with her characteristic French lilt on “Delugeoise,” waltzing through syncopated fuzzy guitars in a criticism of the unhappy modern life of the bourgeoisie. The song’s structure recalls Stereolab’s experimental side, moving quickly from bright pop to a spacey, stately waltz. Similarly, the heavy synths and distorted guitars on “Leleklato Sugar” morph into a chillwave groove, deconstructing and slowly coming back to its initial fervor.
The album doesn’t maintain this level of precision and interest throughout; it lags into repetitive dream-pop melodies on “So is Cardboard Clouds,” and the Atlas Sound remix of “Neon Beanbag” is simply boring. Not Music isn’t innovative, but it’s not an elegy for Stereolab, either. It leaves the band in a position to pick up right where they left off, if they ever decide to end their hiatus and return to churning out vivacious electropop. Until then, we’ll have to settle for Not Music‘s funkiest grooves, which isn’t such a bad thing.