Stereolab Chemical Chords

[4AD; 2008]

Styles: {The Groop Played “space-age bachelor pad music”}
Others: Monade, Pia Fraus, Mahogany, Saloon

I’ve always found Stereolab to be terrifically frustrating. Take the first track “Neon Beanbag” on Chemical Chords, for example. The song would've been very nice indeed had they not decided to include all of the “ba ba ba doo doo wada” vocalizing towards the end. Then the record goes straight into “Three Women,” a song that sounds like it could’ve been filler on any Stereolab album post-Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Personally, I would throw this kind of stuff right into the garbage, were it not for the fact that most Stereolab albums have something similar to the title track on Chemical Chords, a song so moving and flawless in its construction as to make everything else they do seem moot by comparison.

Chemical Chords is a fine album by Stereolab standards, even if it does nothing to improve upon the band’s by now all-too-familiar sound. In other words, Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops still might be all the Stereolab you really need. If you just can’t get enough of this stuff, the album is no significantly worse or better than anything else they’ve released since the mid-’90s. Even I don’t know if that’s an insult or a compliment. Stereolab are good at what they do, but they’ve done it to death -- and so have plenty of others. They may take forever between studio full-lengths now, but it doesn’t mean they’re producing anything mindblowing with the downtime; even the band’s side-projects do little to offer up a different formula. (See Monade for further proof). Even worse is that artists obviously influenced by them to some degree have made albums more engaging than anything Stereolab have done this decade. (See Mahogany’s Connectivity!).

If this album does anything different, it can be found in its ability to reign in some of the length and repetition found on relatively recent albums like Sound Dust and Margerine Eclipse. The longest song on here is the aforementioned “Chemical Chords,” which clocks in at 5:13. Compare that to “Dear Marge” or “Space Moth,” which hover around the seven- to eight-minute mark. But when an album’s most notable feature is its track length, it’s pretty apparent that we’re all running out of things to talk about in regards to Stereolab’s sound. Look up a few recent reviews for Chemical Chords and you’ll find statements including “yup, still sounds like Stereolab” and “it’s actually hard to say anything significantly new about Stereolab” (from Cokemachineglow and Dusted, respectively). I only wish I were using those examples as a springboard for a counterattack encompassing how everyone else “just doesn’t get it, maaan” and how the band is exploring intricate interlocking melodies and psychedelia through repetition, etc. But Stereolab have already been there, and those points have already been made many times over.

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