This group very nearly defies criticism. Stereolab music exists in its own little dimension, waiting to be discovered and savored by sonic explorers. When you listen to any new release by Stereolab-this one included-the experience is deceptively nondescript. Cries of “too repetitive!” are often heard during that first go-round, but after that, the discoveries begin. Those little audio gems buried in the mix, insidious melodies that get stuck in your head long after the CD has been filed into the library, and groovy analogue synth textures add up to real enjoyment on repeated listens.
Their latest work is no exception; six songs on three 7-inch singles recorded in France, which are also available for download. The first single, “Kyberneticka Babicka” is a two-parter, probably the songs most likely to be accused of too much repetition, and in fairness, the group does come off as recycling itself a bit. Even so, these are two upbeat and fun songs, and those Stereolab surprises are right there waiting for you to discover. For those who aren’t sure, try the second and third singles first for maximum enjoyment, the come back to “Kyberneticka” for dessert.
“Plastic Mile” offers “I Was a Sunny Rainphase” as the b-side. These two cuts have that classic ‘Lab sound. “Plastic” features horns, snyth drones and twinkly organ/bell chime sounds fans have come to love over the years. “Rainphase” is a lush affair, with chant/singing over good bouncy rhythms. The group adds some keyboard sproings and squiggles for good measure and pulls off a surprise tempo change in the middle, dragging the whole song off the beaten track into the underbrush.
Single three, “Interlock,” brings the bass right up front for a funkier sound-a very good move indeed. More, please! This is the best of the six new tracks, but the flipside, “Visionary Road Maps” runs a close second. It’s got the same steady clip as “Interlock” but with less funk and more ‘no-nonsense’ playing. Tight arrangements, another unexpected change of pace, plus a “we’re concentrating!” vibe make this one stand out. Right at the end, the song mutates into a melancholy French/Italian film soundtrack motif and winds down and out.
These six songs are really just a tease, as the group is working on new material for a 2006 release, plus a tour also tentatively planned for sometime next year. Til the tour, explore these three singles and rejoice that Stereolab didn’t bother waiting for the Christmas buying season to put them out.