A Few Steps More
What to do when you are part of a signature group that has a signature sound and you want to branch out and try something a little different? Two words that possibly shake the foundations of the "primary" group and engage the salivary glands of collectors: solo project. They are most often half-assed.doomed affairs that server only to occupy the last obligatory third of an interview about the primary band. 'So Mr Watts, on top of another world tour with the Stones, you still seem compelled to eke out cheezy albums of jazz standards on your own label. What's that like?" kind of questions. But for every 10 Revenges (remember that New Order offshoot?) there is one The Breeders that may, for a moment, succeed where the primary hath failed. In an era where bands are now around for decades, its nice to think the fire of rock still burns hot enough too ignite a second wick now and then.
Take for instance Monade, initially the home studio side project of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, who took a moment off from creating copious amounts of bubbly minimalistic drone-pop with other Labber Tim Gane, to er, create some without him. The debute recording from 2003 Socialisme ou Barbarie: The Bedroom Recordings held true to its title, serving mostly to give yet another bin in the record store for Stereolab collectors to scour. Push a few years down the line, after Stereolab has started, in this reviewers opinion, to become a recursive loop unlike the best of their songs - a self-generating process that seems to run on auto-pilot, she has rallied a team around her for the second Monade release A Few Steps More. The first reaction will be this sounds liks Stereolab - her French Edit Piaf vocals, the lite-ish Bacharach pop, its inescapable. Where it branches off is that the band sounds more engaged with the songs than the process. The songs burble along with a lot of scene changes and pop structure, making for one of the most engaging things Sadier has been involved with since her tryst with Will Oldham and Rian Murphy on their baroque mini-epic All Most Heaven.
"Wash and Dance" baa-baa-wooo's out the gate sounding like some of the more pop moments of the s-band but with a more subdued swing to it. Her sleepy vocals, sung almost exclusively in French on the album make this a most pleasant slice of lovely ambiance. The title track, one of the few in English, but with her strong vocal style and accent , you wouldn't know it if you weren't listening for it, continues this bubbly path, but with a darkening of the clouds that rush over head. "La Salle Du Perdus" continues this melancholy arc, but this is that joyous melancholy, that stereotypical Frech-film ennui, that is weirdly comforting that courses like a slow river through the album. I cannot comment on the politics of the lyrics (usually leaning in a cafe-society Marxist direction with Stereolab. I will sing of nobility of the People, as soon as they get me another espresso, s'il vout plait.) but without having a translation, this becomes simply an affair of slight, delicate chamber pop. "Das Kind" revolves around what feels like a skipping record, but one that works so well you are hesitant to go fix it. "2 Portes, 7 Fentres" is an intimate horn infused portrait that might be my favorite track on the record, especially when it evolves into a Martin Denny explosion of percussion and background vocals. Its hard to say, because the way the songs blend together and flow into each other is exquisite.
"Dittysweep" serves as a slight noisy separator where a side flip used to be required, leading into the resplendent "Becoming" a somber little song of the self, and how it should be celebrated, a telling topic for inclusion on a solo project. The album trundles along at the same steady pace throughout "Pas Toujours; Encore" and the laval lamp Quaalude rocker "Sensible et Extensible" replete with bad-trip vocoder en francais in the middle, though another interlude "Dittyah" ( I almost wish they had done like They Might Be Giants did on Apollo 19 with their interludes: put a succession of them at the end of the record so they would crop up unexpectedly when the disc was played in shuffle mode) into the space age balsts of "Paradoxie" and the misty rain synth ballad "There are Things."
Overall, much as I don't want to say this, it sounds like a Stereolab album, with the more minimal and often maddening parts replaced with somber europop trapping than make you feel like you are Vespa-ing your sadness away whilst zipping around a fake, cinematic Paris, iPod buds hanging from your head much like your disillusionment. Its not the most spectacular, sparkly thing you've ever heard, but I don't think its intended to be. Instead, you have a record that doesn't turn ones darker thoughts into adolescent diary pages or raging torrents but lets them stand as they are and relishes in their strange glory. Or maybe I'm just having a bad day at the office and am refracting my lack of sunshine into it. Regardless, this little disc is making me smile, be it in recognition or resignation, and either way, I'll take it.
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