One of the side effects of being a an Internet Authority and International Shaper of Tastes like myself is that, when you aren't fighting off groupies and cashing endorsement checks, you get a chance to really examine your likes and dislikes to a microscopic degree that pre-Internet navel gazing never anticipated. And if there is any band that inspires uber-introspection in me, its Stereolab. I have gone from proclaiming them the Future of Popular Music to being the defining example of style over substance; from being stuck in a redundant creative loop like their sleeping pill music, to being perpetual innovators, models for us all. I'm guessing if I've put this much effort titrating and measuring my love/hate for them, I must really love them lest I wouldn't be obsessing about their status and popping their bra straps all the time.
The latest release in their never ending feeder for collectors is a sparkling effervescent triad of 7"singles, combined under the a utilitarian auspice of 3?ó7. This group is so prolific, I'm really waiting until they do a set of solo face albums ala KISS available at the front counter at IKEA. In fact IKEA might be the precise way to describe this group. As much as I want to say I need hard wood and antiques and age and grit, the clean lines and funny names sooth me to no end, and I have a IKEA couch, camouflaged by a tie dye slip cover in my music room at home, which adds just the right opium den atmosphere I'm looking for.
Anyway, back to the music. Single one is the two-parter "Kyberneticka Babicka 1 & 2" which speculatively, soundtracks an imaginary Parade of Technology in cartoon Red Square, where happy tanks and marching children tethering large balloons of cell phones and microwaves bring a smile to the knowing bearded fathers at the Kartoon Kremlin. It hits one one of flaw/talents of the 'Lab, in that they will take a good idea, and dig a mile long trench with it, soldiering on right through boredom until its a good idea again.
"Plastic Mile" and "I Was a Sunny Rainphase" are classic Stereolab in polished Europop mode, both these songs wiggling and droning and endlessly crescendo-ing into your heart, but behind door number three is the strongest single, where Stereolab plays to its collective strengths operating as a new New Order, like old New Order used before they imploded - strong, intelligent synth rock. "Interlock" utilizes one of the funkier grooves I've heard out of them, groovy enough to be in a James Bond film (when are they going to score a Bond film? They are the logical choice.) and the final number "Visionary Roadmaps" percolates like some kind of darkened frug, like when you look up from the coke tray and get a glimpse of your self in the bathroom mirror for one blank terrifying second, and then dart back out to the party to accept your oblivion in style, then transmutes into a psychedelic baroque piece they are so good at. I still think Stereolab is mostly ear candy, but we forget that when the explorers left Portugal or wherever, it was exotic flavors they sought. And Tim Gane and crew always bring back the good stuff when their ship comes in.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com