Stereolab: Sound-Dust

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Stereolab

Album: Sound-Dust
Label: Elektra

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To casual observers, Stereolab operates from a fairly limited palette, crafting sleek, slick, Krautrock-influenced lounge-pop out of warm, ornate instrumentation (horns, woodwinds, glockenspiels, analog keyboards) and Laetitia Sadier's sweet-sounding vocals, which alternate between French and English. But the group's prolific nature—not to mention the obsession with which fans pursue its every note—provides a good indication of the versatile applications for Stereolab's unique ingredients. For such an instantly identifiable band, Stereolab is surprisingly erratic, with 1999's dull, detached Cobra & Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night neglecting the importance of warmth to its sound. But that welcome ingredient finds its way back into Sound-Dust, an ingratiating return to form that benefits from Sean O'Hagan's eclectic, elastic arrangements. At seven and a half minutes, "Spacemoth" could be the prototypical Stereolab song, swimming in horns, samples, old keyboards, and countless sonic tricks. But it's also engaging as more than just a production exercise, grounded in sugary hooks and Sadier's lovely vocal. "Captain EasyChord" is even more compelling, taking left turns that create the illusion of several songs in one. Sadier and co-leader Tim Gane's much-discussed Marxist politics are uneasily shoehorned into the clunky "Gus The Mynah Bird," but that's a minor misstep on an album that seamlessly synthesizes countless ideas, influences, and ingredients into a package that makes them all sound warm and inviting.

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