Friday, August 29, 2008

Stereolab - Chemical Chords

Neon Beanbag

Chemical Chords (Elektra, 2008)
Grade: B+

Download: Stereolab - "Three Women"

Summer is starting to wane on us Midwesterners, and as the last warm weeks start to fade into autumn we’re all trying to squeeze in one of those last trips to a lake (known to Minnesotans specifically as “goin’ to da cabin”) or an outdoor show before we have to start piling on the layers of clothing, eventually falling into the bleak abyss of winter.

Lucky for us, there’s still some good, fun-time albums being released that let us hold onto those sunny, carefree times just a little while longer. Stereolab’s latest effort, Chemical Chords, brings us bright and shiny psychedelic pop sing-songs that are bold, but lighthearted. Stereolab have been together since 1990, and after fluctuating with various sounds as well as a multitude of band members, they have proven that their eclectic, revived sound has given them real staying power.

Known for being an experimental pop band, Stereolab has been working for years on creating their own little indescribable niche in the ever-expanding world of musical genres. Although far less alternative-pop-based than 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup, the songs from Chemical Chords still sounds like the band's essential material, but perhaps more organized and more mature. "Neon Beanbag" hits the ground running with a chipper, retro beat that speaks volumes about the sound of the entire album. The songs are simple, yet incredibly complex in terms of instrumental stylings, arrangements which aren’t blatantly obvious upon first listen. Initially, the sound can seem somewhat dull and repetitive; an old TV sitcom theme that never ends. Before too long, thanks to the lust, soft sound of vocalist Laetitia Sadier, I realized I needed to stop trying so hard and just tune out and listen.

Each track rolls effortlessly to the next, and though the songs individually aren’t real attention-grabbers, they provide a mellow mood thanks to clean, Motown-esque musical arrangements and delicate electric guitar. Songs like "Fractal Dream of a Thing" are beautifully orchestrated, with plenty of Moogs and xylophones, which help create an atmosphere that's trippy and hypnotic. Much of Chemical Chords is like a time capsule into the late 1960s, and it’s hard not to hear reverberations of songs like Strawberry Alarm Clock’s "Incense and Peppermint."

These songs aren’t meant to be terribly serious; they’re enjoyable on a completely different level. Chemical Chords plays like a swansong to hot summer nights filled with beer and laughter and reminiscing about good times. Leave your expectations at the door; Stereolab knows what they’re doing.

Stereolab Myspace Page

(Tara Rogan)

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