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Stereolab – Not Music

Maria Turauskis


Not Music is Stereolab’s tenth full-length studio album, which is curiously due for release within the depths of the group’s current, self-imposed musical hiatus. Recorded in late 2007, this album was created during the sessions that spawned the group’s most recent release, 2008’s Chemical Chords. Interestingly, however, although these two most recent offerings from the group emerged within the same creative origins, Not Music really breaks away from the band’s typical fair, presenting darker, synth-laden edges and fresher rhythms, as well as the light, upbeat, lounge inspired qualities for which Stereolab are known and loved; indeed, a number of tracks would not feel entirely out of place in a Stella Artois commercial or in one of the Pink Panther movies.

Laetitia Sadier’s restrained yet rolling French pronunciation and delicate vocal timbre fits perfectly within this aesthetic. Her lyrics are not always discernable (though they are quite interesting when they are) and her voice is often used purely for these instrumental and stylistic qualities. The group’s instrumental abilities throughout this album are of a high quality, as is the crisp production. It is rhythmically interesting, with a high ratio of drum machine patterns, which lends many of the tracks a cool, post-modern edge.

The album does not display as much guitar action as previous Stereolab releases – it is not even distinguishable on a number of tracks – although there is a varied and interesting mixture of instruments on display, including a fair bit of brass, some strings, and a lot of tuned percussion. The standout area of instrumentation of the whole album, however, is the proliferation and variety of synths on offer. Some have a fresh, post-modern, dream-pop inspired quality similar to the works of hip Brooklyn outfits such as Au Revoir Simone or Savoir Adore; others sound beyond analogue, with thick, heavy, sci-fi inspired sounds. Silver Sands (Emperor Machine Mix) especially sounds like something Vangelis forget to put in the Blade Runner soundtrack – completely different from the original, quaint mix of the track from Chemical Chords.

Throughout Not Music there appears to be an awful lot of direct influences (and influencees), from a huge variety of areas; from Krautrock to post-rock, 1960s Euro-pop to electronica. However, Stereolab are the ultimate post-modern mixers, and what could have turned into one huge sonic mess has actually evolved into what I feel is their most interesting and current release to date.