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Monokini

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Album Review

By the time of 1997's Monokini — which was reissued by Kill Rock Stars in 2003 with bonus tracks — Stereo Total had refined its sound, tightening up from the fuzzy, sprawling beginnings heard on Oh Ah! Indeed, it would have been difficult for them to get any looser without falling apart altogether, but fortunately they didn't sacrifice much spontaneity for smoothness. Songs like the Serge Gainsbourg-meets-Pulp pop of "Supergirl" and the stomping rock of "Lunatique" are as vibrant as anything off of the group's debut, but the more complex songwriting and cleaner sound reflect the progress Stereo Total made since that album. And while the album has its share of fizz-bomb punk like "Aua," "Tu M'As Voulue," and "LA, CA, USA," Monokini's focus on electronics, pop, and ballads makes it a very different beast than Oh Ah! The album's opening track, "Ach Ach Liebling," reveals this trend quickly: its spare production, fuzzy synths, and linear melody make it quite a departure from the noisy bounce of the previous album. "Schön Von Hinten" is another landmark track, boasting a cut-n-paste production that recalls a European version of Pizzicato Five's Shibuya-kei sound (indeed, the song also appears in Japanese, as "Ushilo Sugata Ga Kilei," toward the end of the album). High-strung electro-pop makes up a good chunk of Monokini, from the playful, aptly named "Cosmonaute" to the rapid-motion clockwerks of "Und Wer Wird Sich Um Mich Kümmern" to the sparkly electronic bossa nova of "Moustique." These electronic dabblings highlight the retro — but far from conservative — naïveté of Stereo Total's music while taking it in a direction that influenced every album that followed Monokini. Their cover of Sylvie Vartan's "Dilindam," meanwhile, isn't groundbreaking, but it is one of Stereo Total's most charming covers, a love story set in a rainstorm that sounds like it could be from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. A significant step forward for Stereo Total, Monokini brought some order and polish to the group's sound; for the rest of its career, the band alternated between the smooth pop leanings of this album and the rougher, punkier sound of Oh Ah!, often within the course of one album. The B-sides added onto the 2003 version of Monokini reflect the album's pop overtones, especially on the lovely version "Ex Fan de Sixties," and "The Other Side of You," a winsome English-language version of "Schön Von Hinten." That track is also revisited on "Schön Von Unten," a remix that takes the song in an even quirkier, more dance-inspired direction. Fans of My Melody and especially Musique Automatique who were previously unable to find Monokini will find it an especially fun and rewarding look back now.

Biography

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Though they're based in Berlin, the witty pop group Stereo Total draw bandmembers and musical influences from across Europe. Vocalist/guitarist/drummer Françoise Cactus is French and vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Brezel Göring is German, and the group has included members from Italy, Scotland, and Bohemia. Their 1995 debut album, Oh Ah! on Bungalow Records, introduced their kitchen-sink approach to pop music, which embraces punk, hip-hop, disco, '60s pop, and rock from France, the U.K., and the...
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Monokini, Stereo Total
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