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Chemical Chords

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iTunes Review

London, England’s Stereolab stick to what they know for their eleventh album, 2008’s Chemical Chords. Their French-inspired pop tweaked with what’s now well-known as “space-age bachelor pad” instrumentation makes for their familiar loose and free atmospherics. It sets the stage for Laetitia Sadier’s pop leanings to take firm hold with “Valley Hi!,” “Nous Vous Demandons Pardon,” and “Silver Sands,” while Sean O’Hagan’s brass and string arrangements perk things up throughout. The meandering inquisitions of “Neon Beanbag,” “Pop Molecule (Molecular Pop 1),” and “Vortical Phonotheque” are among the many deliberately obscure compositions that were allegedly boiled down from 32 potential tracks. Stereolab never settle for easy listening. Their rhythms consistently challenge and their melodies frequently hide behind ornate arrangements that threaten to fly away in the breeze. However, this lightness of being juxtaposes well against what initially feels like an intense intellectual study. Despite its high-brow allusions, this isn’t laboratory pop. It is birthed in the studio and heavily manipulated as a rule, but there’s an ease and sweetness that never veers towards abrasion.

Customer Reviews

Refined, clean compositions; a nice step for the Lab

This album is immediately one of my favorites among the discography of one of my favorite bands. The stripped-down orchestration of "Fab Four Suture" is combined with the brighter sounds of "Margerine Eclipse" and the tasteful, more organic instrumentation found in "Sound-Dust" and "Cobra and Phases." The songs themselves move at a consistently quick click compared to many of their previous albums with the exception of "Vortical Phonotheque." These tracks also stay away from the weird multi-part forms that plagued "Cobra" and "Sound-Dust" and were still annoying in "Margerine" and "Fab Four." The title makes a lot of sense actually, and it seems to make the most sense since "Dots and Loops." This album is all about harmonies that are new for the Lab. Sure, some of the familiar are still there, but some of this stuff is decidedly different- check out "Fractal Dream of a Thing" for example. It's not all nice stacked thirds here, there's some interesting dissonances going on in the counterpoint! However, "Daisy Click Clack" is on the other side of the spectrum... It's almost too conventional, and I have no clue what these lyrics are all about, but they're a little unsettling where they are and sound a bit like some cheesy number from an old timey movie. Stereolab and Irving Berlin just don't mix very well in my opinion. I don't get it, but hey, that's only one track. Reviewers are already getting started on their online blogs, giving the album mid-range scores and waving the politics flag around. "They should be more angry- they've predicted our economic problems with Ping Pong, where are they now?" So what? What the heck did all that political musing do anyway? They're just musicians, let them do as they please. There's also the inevitable "They sound the same" thing. I don't understand this a bit. These guys are an ensemble devoted to improving the quality of their compositions. They're wildly successful at this most of the time, and there's nothing wrong with a band that chooses to take this route. Stereolab won't gain fans here, sure, but they're perfecting their trade and pleasing their fanbase in the process (aside from the pro-regression crowd, I won't even get into that). If you're only interested in getting a few tracks, I would suggest "Neon Beanbag," "The Ecstatic Static," "Pop Molecule," "Fractal Dream of a Thing," and the slightly spacey "Vortical Phonotheque" for a chill track. Happy listening!

Forget the detractors, this band is always the same and always different, sublimely. Stereolab gets so much out of what seems so simple, and I’d have to say that at first listen this is their most imaginative effort I’ve heard. Doesn’t feel like a new album, it feels like an album that’s been out there for four or five years, and you’re just now discovering it. And that’s a good thing. It will stand up straight right alongside any of the other releases you have. Maybe not so accessible as "Margerine Eclipse," or "Dots & Loops," for new/casual listeners, but it should keep your attention for a while. SWL

Chemical Chords hits all the right notes!

Thank goodness they didn't pack it in after the death of Mary Hansen. Laetitia and crew have proven once again that there is a lot of inspiration left in the tank. This is their most cohesive effort since Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night in 1999, and the drumming is the tightest ever on a Lab album. The shorter songs here sadden you when they're over, and the longer ones seem shorter than they are. Neon Beanbag bounces merrily along, and is my favorite of the bunch. I can't wait until their tour kicks off in September as I'm catching the first two gigs!


Formed: 1991 in London, England

Genre: Alternative

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

Combining an inclination for melodic '60s pop with an art rock aesthetic borrowed from Krautrock bands like Faust and Neu!, Stereolab were one of the most influential alternative bands of the '90s. Led by Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, Stereolab either legitimized forms of music that were on the fringe of rock, or brought attention to strands of pop music -- bossa nova, lounge-pop, movie soundtracks -- that were traditionally banished from the rock lineage. The group's trademark sound -- a droning,...
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