Friday, May 2, 2008
The Groop Played Space Age Batchelor Pad Music
by Simon Reynolds
Stereolab is one of the more intriguing groups to emerge from Britain's now-kaput dreampop scene. And this mini-LP is the group's most artful gambit yet. The title and packaging is a sly parody-homage to the "exotica" genre of the '50s, when tropical-scented, easy-listening albums by Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, etc, were designed so that the modern bachelor could (a) show off the stereophonic range of his state-of-the-art hi-fi, and (b) get his date "in the mood" before making his move. It's a good joke, and a logical evolution for dreampop, since My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive et al. always made for a consummate seduction soundtrack.
Stereolab knows its musical history (it titled a recent single "John Cage Bubblegum") and on this album it explores the secret links between trance rock, ambient and Muzak. The result could be dubbed "kitschadelic": at once tacky and celestial, synthetic and sublime. On the opener, "Avant Garde M.O.R.", Laetitita Saider's serene and listeless vocals (midway between Nico and Astrud Gilberto) float through a fragrant mist of acoustic guitars, marimbas, and mood synths. "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music (Mellow)" could be the sort of jaunty, piped music you'd hear in a carpet store, but instead of being below the threshold of audibility, it's at full volume, so that its weirdness is in-your-face. The sequel, "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music (Foamy)" sounds like a Muzak vent that's fallen into a swimming pool.
The pace picks up on Side Two (New Wave), with "We're Not Adult Orientated". At first, the song's reedy Farfisa and staccato beat really do sound Noo Wave, but the track develops into something that's less like the Cars and more like the motorik style of the German band Neu!, a brimming, tingling, exultant onrush of sound that simulates the sensation of gliding down the Autobahn.
At times, Stereolab's parody of blandness is very nearly merely bland. But at its best, Stereolab is making the Muzak of the spheres.
Melody Maker, July 16th 1994
By Simon Reynolds
The improbable magic of Stereolab resides in the partnership (romantic and professional) of Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier. Gane is the boffin in the sound laboratory, tinkering away to create mutant hybrids like ‘avant-garde MOR’ and ‘ambient boogie’, gene-splicing Popol Vuh chords to a Canned Heat bass line. Sadier is the dulcet-toned chanteuse who sings about how capitalism is "not eternal, imperishable", like she’s the missing link between Francoise Hardy and Ulrike Meinhof. Improbably, Sterolab’s Marxist muzak and motorik mantras have become extremely popular.
Stereolab proclaimed their easy-listening fetish in the title of the first of their two LPs of ’93, Space Age Bachelor Pad Music. Subsequently, books like Research’s Incredibly Strange Music and Elevator Music have begun the rehabilitation of this stuff into the canon of ‘cool’ music. It’s suddenly very trendy indeed to collect Fifties and Sixties exotica, stereo-testing albums, moog records et al: all the stuff Tim has been exploring for over a decade. Does this dismay him?
"My only problem with Incredibly Strange Music," says Tim, "was that it seemed to be trying to attract people for trashy, quirky, kitsch reasons. They concentrated too much on the idea that ‘This is the wackiest music you’re ever gonna hear’. But I think it’s really good music, really extreme if you take it out of its context as background music. It did a lot of avant-garde things earlier than other more artistically serious forms of music did; it made shockingly original connections and juxtapositions of styles. A lot of the reason why it’s popular now is simply that it’s very modern music."
Tim first got into bachelor pad music when he was a fan of Throbbing Gristle, who had cited Martin Denny’s exotica as an influence on their "muzak for death factories". Now he knows the field inside out, and as I’d hoped, regales me with a succession of wonderfully bizarre tracks by legends like Perrey & Kingsley and Dick Hyman, my favourites being a moog version of James Brown’s ‘Give It Up Turn It Loose’, that sounds like Aphex, and what sounds like The Clangers playing ‘Louie Louie’ in the style of The Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’. It’s easy to see how you could get obsessed, especially as the sleeves and graphics and pseudo-scientific liner notes are such a gas.
Often the artwork depicts a bespectacled, grave-looking composer standing in front of an early synthesizer, a huge bank of dials, switches and meters. Similar ‘This is the future’ iconography appeared on the sleeves of Krautrockers like Cluster and Harmonia, and musique concrete composers like Pierre Henry. All this lends credence to Stereolab’s exploration of the hidden links between muzak, trance rock and avant-garde minimalism. The sleeve to their new single, ‘Ping Pong’, completes the chain; it’s another primitive synthesizer, warped through a psychedelic fish-eye lens.
"My big attraction to this music was that it was about the future. Cos it was done in the Fifties and Sixties, the idea of the future was quite crass – but also full of optimism and infinite possibilities. And that’s different from now, where the future isn’t about infinite possibilities at all."
What’s so delightful about Stereolab is the way they connect this disregarded, ultra-square background music with the ultra-hip canon of underground rock: the Velvets, The Modern Lovers, Faust, Neu!, Suicide. Of all the mantric dronologists, Neu! are the key source for the ‘Lab’s sound; they have that same sense of bursting but restrained optimism, a feeling of cruising steadily into a golden future. Stereolab use the motorik beat perfected by Kraftwerk and Neu!, an unsyncopated, uninflected pulse-rhythm.
"That metronomic beat is very important, and it’s really disliked by drummers cos it’s boring to play. It’s very strict and yet it’s wild, too. The travelling thing... I’ve always liked that state of going somewhere, the anticipation."
Is that sense of eyes-on-the-horizon, calm euphoria related to the politics in Laetitia’s lyrics, like ‘Wow And Flutter’, with its joyous certainty that capitalism is "not eternal, imperishable, oh yes it will fall"?
"I often think that what Tim and I do is completely polarised," says Laetitia. "Tim does something very simple musically, one chord with a twist, and then I write this really complex lyric. But both the words and the music are trying to look ahead, to progress, so yes, I think we have the same aim."
Stereolab's new single ‘Ping Pong’, is the classic sugared pill: irresistibly perky French Sixties pop with ba-ba-ba-ba-ba harmonies, coating some heavy-duty Marxist analysis. The chorus "Huger slump/Greater War/And then shallower recovery", is all about capitalism’s recurrent, structurally in-built crises.
Laetitia: "I had a discussion with a friend, and he was saying, ‘Capitalism is all right, cos recovery is in-built. There’s a slump then a war and then you have to rebuild everything and that stimulates a recovery.’ And he thought that was all right! I thought that was perfectly shocking!"
‘Ping Pong’ is Stereolab at their most exquisitely oxymoronic – subversive MOR – but it does make me wonder if the band are engaged in a rather rarefied and esoteric project. Is it really likely that they can enlighten anyone via such oblique strategies?
Laetitia: "It’s not that I want to change people’s minds... But I personally have been changed by Malcolm’s lyrics," – the latter being the lyricist in McCarthy, Tim’s previous group – "radically changed. Before, I just didn’t think about my environment or who was pulling the strings. So I’m hoping that if I can open one person’s eyes, then that’s enough."
"It’s very important to adopt a very critical point of view, both with music and with what you say in lyrics," adds Tim. "With us, it’s to do with finding out about stuff, pushing yourself a bit. I don’t know how important what we do is in a world perspective, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it."
"I was going to say something like ‘We are the world’," continues Laetitia. "But, y’know, everything you do is one little tiny thing better, or tiny little thing worse, in the world."
And so we talk about the pitfalls of politics in pop, about violent revolution (Laetitia believes that bloodshed is necessary), about Situationism and how the idealism of the late Sixties curdled into terrorism (literal, with the Baader-Meinhof, and cultural, with punk). Stereolab’s ‘contribution to the struggle’ may be subtle to the point of imperceptibility, at least by traditional combat rock standards, but at least they don’t simplify politics into slogans and low-com-denom platitudes. Instead their role is to complexify, puzzle, intrigue. Let’s call them eso-terrorists: their arcane games with music history, the abstruse, deathly dry wit of their song titles, are all an attempt to get the listener thinking, to foster a critical environment around the band rather than the poorly grounded solidarity and consensus that surrounds most political interventions in pop.
Although they hate to be contextualised, if the ‘Lab fit anywhere, it’s with the lo-fi – their current faves include Trumans Water, Smog, Sebadoh, LaBradford, Pram and Flying Saucer Attack. Tim prefers to use ancient, artificial-sounding drum machines as used by Cluster or Sly Stone, where there’s "no programming, you just press the ‘cha cha’ button... I like to use more archaic things and force them into NOW, as opposed to using instruments which give a ‘now’ sound, but it’s harder to do something original".
All this connects to Stereolab’s minimal-is-maximal aesthetic. Their prolific outpouring of EPs and LPs (the new one, the awesome Mars Audiace Quintet, follows ‘Ping Pong’ shortly) make up a seamless body of work which sounds "always the same, always different". Mining a narrow seam of sound, the ‘Lab unearth endless treasure.
"I don’t want to be eclectic, it’s about getting the fullest and deepest out of one area," concludes Tim. "Cos that restriction actually gives you more freedom."
CHARLES LONG & STEREOLAB: THE AMORPHOUS BODY STUDY CENTER
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
director's cut ArtForum, May, 1995
By Simon Reynolds
Within minutes of taking a seat at "Bubblegum Station", the centrepiece of this collaboration between sculptor Charles Long and UK soundscapers Stereolab, I enjoy a little epiphany. "Bubblegum" is an enormous mound of plasticine that the viewer is invited to mold and mark. I'm hacking off some pink stuff using one of the scalpels helpfully provided, and this guy gingerly sits at the next stool and starts grinning shyly at me. I take off the headphones (through which Stereolab's specially commissioned soundtrack is piped) and the guy asks: "Are you the artist?". I should have said 'yes', of course--since the very point of "Bubblegum Station" is to erase the distinction between creator and consumer--but instead I politely explain that we're all allowed to participate in a work-in-process. So the guy fiddles with a nodule of plasticine, then seems to get embarassed and slopes off to look at the other exhibits.
Separating the irretrievably adult from those still in touch with the inner child, "Bubblegum Station" is definitely the hit of The Amorphous Body Study Center. The plasticine mass is pocked and protuberant with residues of collective creativity--coral fronds and tendrils, etched hieroglyphs, and a few figurative offerings (a dice with nines on each side, a shark, a motorcar). There are pink blobs under each stool, too (Long's original inspiration for the piece was the bubblegum deposited under desks by bored schoolkids), and somebody has wittily sculpted one lump into an udder.
Stereolab designed each composition (there's one per installation) to sound right whenever you happen to put on the 'phones. In this case, "Melochord Seventy-Five" is a typical slice of Stereolab mantra-rock, based around a blithe three-note melody and a minimal chord-sequence for guitars heavily phased to sound as pinkly inorganic as the plasticine: imagine a sort of Velcro Underground. With their repetition-aesthetic accentuated by the fact that each track is on repeat-play, Stereolab abolish time, encouraging you to become totally absorbed in the polymorphous pleasure of palpating the pink plasma. This was big fun.
"Bubblegum Station" is also the piece which most substantiates the rather lofty concept behind The Amorphous Body Study Center. Long's desire is to focus awareness on, and reaffirm the status of, the body, which he believes is threatened with obsolescence by the advent of an information-based culture. Certainly, there are technology-driven historical forces (the on-line revolution, CD-ROM, the explosion of cable, virtual reality) that are devolving the human body into what Arthur Kroker calls "geek flesh", i.e. blobs of atrophied muscle'n'sinew jacked into the cyberdelic domain, whose only form of exertion is clicking the mouse. But there's an equally powerful counter-trend working towards a unprecedented intensification of bodily awareness and the exploitation of physicality as a resource, involving a plethora of therapies, regimes and rituals (the mania for fitness and working out with weights; body-piercing and tattooing; the unstoppable rise of dance music, etc).
Long reckons that "the biological body is ignored politically and exploited economically with its vulnerability now being its major characteristic'; his "Study Center" is designed as a therapeutic haven, a space in which simple physical pleasures can be rediscovered. Hence "Buloop Buloop", in which viewers sit around a water-drinking installation and sip life-giving H2O from paper cups while contemplating Long's glossy, undulant objects. This would actually be quite pleasant if the seats--the metal, easy-wipe kind you might find in a kindergarten--weren't so uncomfortable. Still Stereolab's "Pop Quiz"--a locked groove of Muzak-of-the-spheres, all heart-pang strings and caressing feminine harmonies over a lurching, waltz-like beat--soothes away the aches.
On its critically acclaimed albums like The Groop Played 'Space Age Batchelor Pad Music' , Transient Random- Noise Bursts With Announcements and Mars Audiac Quintet, Stereolab--a London-based outfit whose core is the creative/romantic partnership of Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier--have explored the secret links between between ultra- square '50s/'60s easy-listening (Martin Denny, Esquivel, Perrey & Kingsley et al) and ultra-hip underground rock (Velvet Underground and their Krautrock successors Faust and Neu!, etc). Stereolab effortlessly blend neo-psychedelia (the metronomic throb of the 'motorik' beat, one-chord guitar-drones) with mood-music (dulcet girl-pop vocals, Moog- synth gurgles). It's an aesthetic I call 'kitschadelia", based in a fascination with yesteryear's quaint notions of the "far out"; a half ironic, half genuinely poignant nostalgia for the days when people thought the future would be fabulous (vacations on the moon, your robot-butler bringing your fried egg and bacon every morning--in pill form, naturally). Like kindred spirits Pram and LaBradford, Stereolab like to use outmoded, artificial-sounding proto-synthesisers such as the Moog, the theremin and the Ondioline. Long's sculptures like "3 To 1 In Groovy Green" share this kitschadelic quality, their outre hues evocative of '60s man-made fabrics, their globular shapes redolent of the squiggles of oil inside a lava-lamp.
"Good Separation In Soft Blue" [above] is Long's most kitschadelic creation. It looks like something from the set of "Barbarella": five white cushions surrounding a Miro-esque blob of pale blue, which seems to have extruded a smaller version of itself on the end of a long thin tendril. Through the headphones waft "Space Moment", possibly Stereolab's sublimest slice of avant-garde MOR yet. Call it 'systems muzak', an imaginary collaboration between Steve Reich and Mantovani: a locked-groove of spangly sounds and a roundelay of fragrant Francophone sibilance braided out of the phrases "de la deliquescence" and "la cohesion socialise". Like Long's sculptures, Stereolab's quirky surfaces often conceal polemical purposes (the band's 1994 single "Ping Pong", for instance, framed a Marxist critique of capitalism's cycles of slump and recovery in deliciously, frothy girl-pop redolent of '60s Gallic chanteuse Francoise Hardy), but both are more successful on the textural as opposed to textual level-- captivating the ear and eye with zany loveliness.
More pix from the exhibition here
Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Melody Maker, 1996
by Simon Reynolds
On cold paper, the idea of Stereolab does not read so very appealing: Krautrock obsessive droning out neo-Neu! monotony, gussied up with Radio 2 strings and Francophone harmonies, and topped with his lover's Living Marxism style analysis of the economic substructure. So why does the reality of Stereolab sound so betwitching, so uncontrived, so sheerly and strangely and sublimely pop? Beats me.
As it happens, Emperor Tomato Ketchup marks a significant break with the Neu! meets Gallic E-Z listening formula that has sustained Stereolab so well over the seven (Jesus, is it really that many? Yes) preceding albums. The motorik beat, the Sean O' Hagan string arrangements, the dulcet harmonies of Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen, are still present. What's new, though, is that much of "Emperor" is almost funky. Apparently, Tim Gane wrote most of the songs starting from basslines, as opposed to two-note guitar chords (his previous modus operandi), and he's been listening closely to the riffs and percussion ideas of Sun Ra, Don Cherry, and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band circa Fly. And so Emperor was conceived as an exercise in swing, almost a big band thang. On top of this, touring with post-rock groove collectives like Pram and Tortoise has surely rubbed off on Stereolab. In fact, approximately half the album was recorded in Chicago with Tortosie's John McEntire at the mixing desk.
The new space and polyrhythmic tension that has infused Stereolab's sound is immediately apparent from the opening "Metronomic Underground", a succulent,
lazy-funk matrix of analog synth-squelches, itchy-guitar riffs, percolating Rhodes organ, bubblicious bass and multiple vocal harmony parts, with every element dovetailing so neatly, so in-the-pocket, that listening is like taking a Zen crash course in breathing correctly. Indeed, there's a mantra-like vibe to the the main lyric--"crazy, brutal, a torpedo"--a self-description which Laetitia intones like she's trying to calm herself down, keep a lid on her inner fire. Also on the funky tip are "Percolator", which percolates (there's no other word) with a frilly bassline and jazzy time-signatures, and the wonderfully frisky "Les Hyper Sound", absolutely rrrrrrollin' with some serious B-line presha, crisp snares, and a perky nursery-rhyme vocal that rips the piss out of sectarianism in pop music.
In more trad 'Lab vein, "Cybele's Reverie" is string-swept, Francophone bizness--simple luvverly. "OLV 26" is like early Kraftwerk meets late Spacemen 3 via Suicide, featuring authentically crap clapped-out drum machine and glue-on-fingers synth. "The Noise of Carpet" is a Buzzcocksy sprint that lays into a layabout friend, a chronic fatalist who has an excess of what the Marxist Gramsci called "pessimism of the intellect", but lacks its essential, counter-active opposite, "optimism of the will". Sadier bemoans the fact that someone so smart is no use to the Struggle.
After Side One, you're thinking this may very well be Stereolab's best record yet. The second side is patchier, kicking off with a brace of undistinguished mid-tempo hypno-grooves, but it also has the most startling stylistic departures. "Monstre Sacre" is a gorgeously lugubrious ballad about Sadier's dead mother and the importance of reconciliation and mutual forgiveness. "Motoroller Scalator" chugs along with an almost Wilson Pickett-like locomotion, while Laetitia asks rhetorically: "What's society built on?". (The answers are 1/ "bluff" 2/ "trust" 3/ "words"). "Slow Fast Hazel" verges on Al Green downhome funky-soul balladry, with its heartstring-tugging violins and wah-wah guitar trickling down like God's silvery tears. Finally, "Anonymous Collective" strips it down to drum and bass: no, not DJ Hype, but an awesomely baleful, slow-simmering dirge-funk redolent of Can circa Tago Mago, over which Laetitia recites her Marxist mantra: "you and me/are molded by some things/way beyond our acknowledgement".
Reconciling cold intellect and sugary sentiment, avant-rock and pure pop, Stereolab are an inspirational one-off; trying to pull off the same miracle would be pointless and redundant (although this isn't dissuading an emergent wave of Stereolab clones from having a go). If you haven't succumbed to this band's charms yet, dilly-dally no longer. Emperor Tomato Ketchup is the sound of a band in its prime.
STEREOLAB , interview
director's cut, Rolling Stone, 1996
by Simon Reynolds
Over six years, eight albums and countless singles, Stereolab has built up one of the most seductive and stimulating discographies in modern music. Effortlessly reconciling avant-garde oddness with pop pleasantness, hypno-groove intensity and ravishing melody, esoteric ideas and easy charm, this London band has won a devoted cult following in Britain. Its fifth album, 1994's Mars Audiac Quintet, actually went Top 20, despite being released via the band's own indie label, Duophonic. And in America, Stereolab remains a favourite with hipsters, despite the fact that its records come out via major label Elektra.
A six-piece with a fluctuating line-up, Stereolab's core is the romantic/creative partnership of guitarist/songwriter Tim Gane and singer/lyricist Laetitia Sadier. Sipping Guinness in the bar of London's National Film Theatre, the couple exude a married-in-all-but-name vibe: they share Laetitia's rolled-up cigarettes and disagree with each others opinions in a gently chiding way.
Sadier grew up in the suburbs of Paris, the daughter of tank-manufacturing father and a mother who was a frustrated singer. She attended Nanterre, the same college as late '60s radical student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, but left early in disgust when she realised that '80s students were more interested in "getting good marks" than discussing Marx. After a spell as a "bilingual assistant--basically a secretary", she met Gane, who was playing in her favourite band, the left-wing English indiepopsters McCarthy. They fell in love, and a year later she moved to London.
Gane grew up in East London, and is what you might call a 'career musician'--if only because, in his career class at high school, when the students had to write letters to potential employees, he sent applications to the post-punk label Industrial and to venerable trance-rock band The Fall. That group's leader Mark E. Smith summed up The Fall's credo in the chorus: "repetition in the music and we're never gonna lose it". That lyric is a good entry point into the Stereolab aesthetic. Gane is a fervent believer in a bunch of M-words: minimalism, the mesmeric power of mantra-like monotony. Like Can's Holger Czukay, he believes that restriction is the mother of invention,
When Stereolab formed in 1990, the breakthrough occurred, says Tim, with two discoveries. "First, I changed the way I played guitar very slightly. I worked out this chord that only had two notes in it, instead of three or four. And as soon as I had that chord, the songs just came, it became super-easy to work out loads of lovely melodies to go with it. The simpler the root-source of the chords, the more notes fit with it. The second thing was picking up a Farfisa keyboard for sixty dollars, the kind of organ used by the '60s garage punks, and by Suicide later. It's only really good for playing two notes drones.I came up with this chord and found the Farfisa all within one week, and it seemed like destiny. Stereolab was born".
Rock's less-is-more, minimal-is-maximal tradition began with Velvet Underground (who drew on the avant-drone ideas of New York contemporaries like La Monte Young), and was carried on by the Modern Lovers and above all by the 'Krautrock' bands of the early '70s. Of these, Neu! is a particularly crucial influence on Stereolab. In many ways Germany's neo-psychedelic/proto-punk equivalent to Television, Neu! invented a sound known as 'motorik', based around chiming guitars and a chugging, metronomic beat that simulated the sensation of gliding serenely down the autobahn.
"Loads of bands we encounter in America are really into Neu!," says Gane. "Neu! did minimalism and drones, but in a very pop way. And the music was very rhythmic--the longer tracks are far closer to the nature of techno than guitar rock."
If Stereolab is cruising down the freeway, the band travels down the middle-of-the-road. For the other big aesthetic input is Gane's fascination and fondness for muzak, Moog albums, exotica and stereo-testing records. Stereolab's name is actually borrowed from a long defunct '50s label which specialised in albums designed to show off the newly-invented stereophonic majesty of the hi-fi (percussion leaping zanily from speaker to speaker, etc). In 1993 the band pre-empted the Juan Garcia Esquivel revival by titling a mini-LP ... And The Groop Played Space Age Bachelor Pad Music. Slightly dismayed by the current vogue for 'hip easy listening', Gane says he's "not into the kitsch element, I'm more into the futuristic side--the way orchestral big band music was crossed in the '60s with early electronic music. Stuff that was originally done for cynical, commercial reasons often resulted in some very strange combinations and juxtapositions of sounds. That's something that you can't really recreate--it never sounds as good when it's revived."
Although Stereolab has dabbled with string arrangments and lite-jazz time signatures, the M.O.R. influence mainly comes through in the vocal melodies, which are decidedly non-rock'n'roll. Sadier and Australian-born backing singer Mary Hansen harmonise in honeyed tones that recall Nico and the kind of '60s French chanteuses, like Francoise Hardy, that Laetitia was exposed to in her youth. Despite her dreamy, dulcet tones, Sadier rarely sings about affairs of the heart, though. More often than not, she's pondering philosphical quandaries, grappling with the contradictions of capitalism and the class system, sometimes even anticipating violent revolution. Which brings us to another M-word: Marxism.
"From the start, my lyrical vision was 'don't talk about yourself'," says Sadier, who simmers with a quiet intensity (on the new album she describes herself as "crazy, butal, a torpedo"). "Thank God, it's changed a bit since then, but there was a vision of trying to write about the collective side of reality". And so on 1994's "Ping Pong", Sadier sang about capitalism's cruel cycles of slump-and-recovery over irresistibly perky, frothy M.O.R. And on the new album Emperor Tomato Ketchup, she lashes fashionable cynicism and political passivity on "The Noise of Carpet" and "Spark Plug", and probes the economic substructure of everyday life in "Anonymous Collective": "you and me/are molded by some things/Way beyond/Our acknowledgment".
Emperor Tomato Ketchup is probably Stereolab's best record yet. Certainly, it's the first to break decisively with the Neu!/motorik mold that's shaped most of the band's output so far. Parts of it are almost funky. "I wrote about 70 percent of the songs from basslines, rather than guitar chords, which was a different approach," says Gane. "But more than funk, I was into the idea of swing, in that big band sense. The first track, 'Metronomic Underground', originally consisted of about about seven riffs that I wanted to lock together like a big band. I was also obsessed with the riffs and rhythms of Sun Ra, Don Cherry and the Plastic Ono Band circa 'Fly'". Another influence cited by Tim is contemporary 'post-rock', "bands we play with like Pram and Tortoise." In fact, roughly half the album was recorded in Chicago with Tortoise's John McEntire producing and contributing percussive ideas.
Stereolab is admirably fearless about appearing arty. In the last two years, the band teamed up with sculptor Charles Long for a project called The Amorphous Body Study Center: the 'Lab wrote music that was piped through headphones into the ears of New York gallery-goers as they contemplated Long's gaily-colored, kitschadelic objects. And the band has collaborated with avant-garde sound-collagist Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound, resulting in the Crumb Duck EP, one track of which can be found on last year's Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2), a CD collection of the band's innumerable limited-edition, vinyl-only singles. But for all Gane & Sadier's lofty and sometimes arcane interests, Stereolab's truest instincts are pop.
"If you listen to 'Good Vibrations' by the Beach Boys," says Tim, "that's a wonderful melodic song, but it's also a very strange and odd selection of sounds and bits stapled together. It's far odder than what people today imagine you're able to get away with in a pop single. You can get away with weird stuff in the dance music area, but with guitar pop, it's like the rule book is written, and everyone is sticking to it. But we want to push things."
"Subversion isn't doing something totally new that no one listens to," says Laetitia. "It's taking a bit of the old and putting something underneath it that goes against all that's been done before."