"Three Women" by Stereolab
The most striking element of Chemical Chords is its brevity. It's been ages since Stereolab made an album without a dragged-out, drone-y centerpiece or a 10-minute suite, and Chords finds the group in pop-song mode—all of the tracks are in the three-minute range, and none is over six. Still, the album doesn't offer anything quite as structured and hooky as "Ping Pong" or "The Noise Of Carpet." Guitarist Tim Gane and singer Laetitia Sadier still build songs on tiny melodies and samples, but this time they aren't falling hopelessly in love with them. They're editing, giving simple ideas more impact by reducing their exposure, preventing a Saturday Night Live skit from becoming a Saturday Night Live movie. This is exemplified by "Pop Molecule (Molecular Pop 1)," a thunderously bottom-heavy instrumental on which the band piles atop a back-masked sample for a little over two minutes, enough to make listeners beg for more, rather than mercy. Meanwhile, High Llama Sean O'Hagan returns to the band with his giddy brass and string arrangements, lending Chords a warmer sound than any 'Lab record in years. His lush contributions snake through the Motown-influenced "The Ecstatic Static," "Self-Portrait With 'Electric Brain,'" and "Cellulose Sunshine." Actually, enough with the titles. They give the impression that Stereolab has burrowed deeper into a hole, when really, they're finally poking their heads out.