Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stereolab - Chemical Chords

Some bands have such a recognisable sound that they always manage to sound like themselves no matter how much they experiment and play around with their core components. A good example is Low, who followed up the big, expansive, almost mainstream sound of The Great Destroyer with the stripped back minimalism of Drums and Guns. Yet all the time they remained quintessentially Low, sounding like no-one else. Stereolab are another good example of a band who are always instantly recognisable, mainly through the combination of their particular synth sound and Laetitia Sadier's vocals.

Like Low, the difference between Stereolab's two most recent albums is marked. The collection of 7 inch singles that made up 2006 compilation Fab Four Suture was Stereolab at their abstract best, making no attempt at commercialism, whereas new album Chemical Chords takes a very different approach. Where the previous record was low-key, the new one, on new label 4AD seems to have a much higher profile. It seems like I can hardly turn on BBC 6Music these days without hearing the title track. So they've definitely gone for radio-friendly. And it's all quite pop.

The songs are as carefully and expertly crafted as always, but this time there's much more focus on the tunes. Then comes along Sean O'Hagan with his strings and brass, and the whole thing ends up sounding, well pretty lush really. It's not like these are components that Gane, Sadier and co. haven't used before, but they've been embraced with fresh enthusiasm. It's a polished album, but in a very good way. The songs have catchy hooks, they swoop and soar and even when, as with all Stereolab records, the songs start to feel like they're replicating themselves, the band hit us with another curveball, like the deliciously bouncy Daisy Click Clack. It's all top-notch stuff and Chemical Chords is easily their best album since Dots and Loops, perhaps even better. Stereolab may always remain comfortingly familiar, but that doesn't mean that they can't thrill us afresh.

mp3: Stereolab - Daisy Click Clack
mp3: Stereolab - Chemical Chords

Buy Chemical Chords from Rough Trade.


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