Monade Monstre Cosmic

[Too Pure; 2008]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: French pop, lounge pop
Others:  Stereolab

Monstre Cosmic, the second proper full-length from Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier's side-project Monade, could, on the surface, be confused for a Stereolab record. God knows with their output it's not hard to stumble across something of theirs you haven't heard. The shared vocals of course lend to this illusion, as do the chugging rhythms and the playfully moody atmospherics. Perhaps the most notable difference is that Monade's sound is far more ‘band’-like, with an obvious human presence behind most of the instrumentation (that being the four-person core lineup that Sadier has culled together). Its approach is also more straightforward, with less emphasis on the startling key and time changes that punctuate much of Stereolab's work. Still, its vocabulary will be familiar to any Stereolab fan; the horns, strings, organs, and guitars are all there. More often than not, the songs are helmed by the dominant bass and drum, with hardly an electronic skronk, blip, or warble in sight.

After the quick "Noir-Noir," the album begins wonderfully with "Étoile," a dreamy, loping piece that slowly builds to a dizzying, asymptotic climax, and "Lost Language," whose aggressive strings sprint into and out of the choppy non-sequitur of its middle two minutes. The remainder of the record largely shifts between these two gears with a preference for the dreamy, and there are few standout tracks. But there are plenty of inspired moments; just as you feel yourself becoming bored by a tedious passage, something will leap into the foreground to reclaim your attention. Unfortunately, it's not consistent enough to be merely agreeable, and it's not daring enough to be an engaging headphones record. It succeeds in that it demonstrates Monade surviving its maturation from more aimless beginnings without simply turning back into Stereolab, but it now lacks the voyeuristic curiosity offered by those early recordings, all without having grown into anything vital and without the safety net of retro-futuristic kitsch.

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