For a certain breed of music fan, the comings and goings of Stereolab have become such a part of the weather that it's hard to remember how different that weather might be without them. Has any band prodded more vanguard developmentsor at least archival urgesin the past 15 years? New and bygone fetishes for countless stylesexotica, krautrock, tropicalia, clicky dub technoprobably would have arisen without Stereolab's imprimatur, but the whole idea of doing the genealogy for favorite bands owes almost everything to the beloved "groop" with ears everywhere.
Paying sufficient respect obscures one minor fact, though: Stereolab is arguably better now than it's ever been. The standard line has dismissed the past few albums as sapped retreads of an aesthetic that expired years ago, but on what planet? Margerine Eclipse, from 2004, found the band crisp and charged after the death of Mary Hansen was supposed to end the project altogether. The new Fab Four Suture, a collection of recent singles touted as a compilation more than a proper album, extends the same line with tracks as dynamic and raw as any in the back catalog. Highpoints like "Interlock" and "Eye Of The Volcano" sound like space-bound Motown classics, all shimmying guitar clips and drums that shift from rock to disco with the flip of a switch. "'Get A Shot Of The Refrigerator'" gains a lot from a grainy recording quality that lends the urgent, un-precious feel of a demo tape; it also returns Tim Gane's snaky, melodic guitar work to the foreground. He lays crystalline patterns over the organs and la-la vocals of "Visionary Road Maps" and "Whisper Pitch," two gorgeous stock-taking tracks that find Stereolab working as a band still rightly curious about what might happen next.