STEREOLAB is one of those bands who I really enjoy, but far too cavalierly take for granted. I’d not seen them play live since their debut US tour in 1992, headlining the Too Pure tour along with MOONSHAKE and TH FAITH HEALERS. I’d not bought a record since Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night (not counting the tremendous value of the Oscillons From The Anti-Sun box set). To be honest, I can’t give any good reasons for either of the lapses in following their live shows or recorded progress. Maybe I’d come to the conclusion that their particular pastiche of Krautrock motorik rhythms and trés cool Gallic detachment was about as well mapped as it could be, and there would be little to no new discoveries waiting for me.
In any case, I decided to find out what I’d been missing out on. Turns out, my hunch was correct. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the show, but there really hasn’t been much of a shift in the bedrock of their sound, aside from the real hole where the late MARY HANSEN’s vocals should be. Despite occasionally looping her own vocals as backing, LAETITIA SADIER’s voice was certainly missing a one-time central element. The band’s vibe has also gotten breezier, edging away from some of the volume and urgency that early songs like “Super Electric” or “Our Trinitone Blast” carried; “French Disko” and “Mountain” would stand up and be counted in this demographic, but they were pretty clearly outliers in the overall setlist. No complaints here though, as “French Disko” is easily one of their best songs and they could have played some French lullabies for the remainder and I would have remained happy. That they did not; TIM GANE is still the leader of the band, despite his rearward stage position, and together with ANDY RAMSEY on simple, insistent drum patterns, helped anchor the new material as well. Of the material from the new record Chemical Chords, I’d say that “Three Women” was a standout, the kind of quality song which the band is known for. Heavenly vocals, some squiggles and noise-bursts from vintage keyboards, a hint of vibes, and of course a killer chorus. It’s all there. The impossibly upbeat “Silver Sands” was another head bopper, everyone carried away by the friendly melody. Stereolab remains a solid, dependable friend. Don’t be a stranger.
LE LOUP started out like some sort of third-rate AKRON/FAMILY ensemble, a black sheep or prodigal cousin. They had a decent idea going with the repetitive guitars and interspersed lines that the two or three (depending on the song) guitarists played, but it all unspooled quickly when the singer started spazzily jabbing at some sequencer/electronics device and sing-shouting into either of the mics grasped tightly in his hands. My enjoyment factor was inversely proportional to the elapsed time of the performance.
MONADE started the proceedings, Laetitia’s increasingly active musical vehicle to express her own ideas (ex-husband Tim is firmly at the helm of the Stereolab bus; don’t miss the ‘mono’ and ‘stereo’ pun involved here). The obvious touch point is her vocals, so similarities between the two groups has a strong thread to pull them together. The musical tone is light, fun, unhurried…simple but sophisticated. Wouldn’t be out of place at an open air café in Montmartre, to be enjoyed along with duck confit and a glass of hearty Gigondas.