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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Stereolab

eclectic reviews and opinions


24 May 1996

The 9:30 Club (Washington, DC)

I first saw the 'lab a coupla years ago, having heard nothing but a fuzzy dub of a scratchy 45 of "John Cage Bubblegum" and was sadly underwhelmed. Since that time I've become quite a fan of their recorded output, however, so I was very eager to see them again.

They still do not have a galvanizing stage presence, to put it mildly. They speak scarce a word but the mumbled "thanks" or "merci" and they hardly move except to change instruments -- apart from guitar mainstay Tim Gane, who rocks back and forth and shakes his head vigorously.

Nonetheless, the good mix allowed Stereolab to recreate and even surpass at times the charms of their albums, among which i would count: dense and hypnotic grooves which are sometimes repetetive, but more often go through complex textural transformations; weird noises; a sometimes goofy pop sensibility (many of the lyrics are in french, and many of the melodies sound like they might have come from the fifties). It was pretty neat to look at a stage with all six of these people on it:

vox/gtr/perc               vox/keys

and to be able to clearly distinguish each individual's contribution almost all of the time -- it was the best sounding show at the new 9:30 club that I listened to through the p.a. (Often I try to stand closer to the stage than the main speaker stack so I hear the sound mostly from the monitors.) But this sounded fine, though quite loud. Also, they had better lights this time around, with some sort of disorienting strobe-y effects that were pretty cool.

For the encore they brought a few members of opening act UI onstage for a very extended jam, which started out being really cool, lost all of us for a few minutes when it got really incoherent, and then got cool again. (We didn't get to see UI's own set, since we arrived just as Stereolab took the stage.)

Unfortunately, I've never been good at synching up titles like "Our Trinitone Blast" with the music played by the groop, so I won't even attempt a setlist, though since I've been listening to the latest release, Emporer Tomato Ketchup as I've been typing this up, I can report that "Metronomic Underground," "Cybele's Reverie," and "Percolator" were all featured in substantially different arrangements, and a bunch of old stuff got played as well.


Fab Four Suture

(Too Pure, 2006)

By now, you probably know what to expect from a Stereolab album: densely layered arrangements, gobs of analog synthesizers, propulsive grooves, Laetitia Sadier's French accent so thick you could cut it with un couteau, veiled Marxist politics, and a tension between pop confections and experimental exercises. Almost always, somewhere in the background, Tim Gane's chimey guitar sharpens the beat's definition.

But for a band with such a characteristic and well-defined sound, Stereolab has a remarkable ability to mine new niches without repeating or reinventing itself. That's mostly because the parameters that define Stereolab allow the band to explore a wide variety of cultures, rhythms, and styles. Fab Four Suture demonstrates the band's impressive breadth, and it's a worthy addition to its prodigious catalog.

Fab Four Suture is bookended by two versions "Kyberneticka Babicka," an aggressively minimalist piece that reveals its ear-candy aspects only on close listening; on the surface, it's primarily a series of bounces between two tones. The opening few bars of "Interlock" are pure '70s funk, but the song quickly blossoms into a profusion of call-and-response melodies and counterpoints that recalls classical composers in its complexity. Perhaps the standout is "Excursions into 'Oh, A-Oh'," which starts out sweet and poppy, even seductive, and switches gears midway into a brooding instrumental with a driving post-punk bassline.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.


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