Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2)
Melody Maker 9th September 1995
Bands get plaudits for having 'ideas'. Ideas are an overrated commodity, especially when I CAN'T UNDERSTAND THEM. Ideas are those things you read about and immediately (self-satisfied) understand WHILE you're reading about them; then you go and pop the kettle on and you can't remember a f***ing word of them. So it is with pop; ideas as a framework for listening never really take hold of you, can never sculpt the immediacy of sound; rather the ideas that emerge as you're listening are more tangible, and they're usually as vague and as arbitrary as the day you're having or the brand you're smoking. Swap Derrida for desire and Dada for dumdedum. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, it's always nice to imagine that right now in all four dimensions Stereolab are making a record. Especially cos they probably ARE. If you're not a corrugated-fingertipped singles- scouring saddo, there was always gonna be a lot of catching up to do. Luckily, this LP gathers up all the stray sevens and limited editions up into one fat bundle and it's the best Stereolab album yet.
'Harmonium' does what i always wanted the lps proper to do, IT GETS FUNKY. Never forget that Can were the funkiest band on the planet, and 'Harmonium' reminds me of 'Uphill', all graceful ferocity, the band playing as close to pigs and demons as they ever get. 'Lo Boob Oscillator' charms the breath from you simply by wonderfully, deliberately MAKING A POINT OF gliding into its motorik fade-out. 'Revox' is like a lusher, stickier Band Of Susans, reminding you that what moves you about Stereolab ain't solely the repitition; it's the feeling of airborne movement when that chord does change, that drone does shift. Tiny. Sliding. Effortless. Devastating.
'French Disko' you know, 'Exploding Head Movie' is like Spacemen's 'Suicide' arranged by the Fleetwoods (not Mac, think 'Come Softly To Me'. 'Tone Burst (Country)' is a lovely, sunstroked C&W thang, but best track of the lot (there's 13 here, all, well, y'know, 'labish) is, ahem, 'Animal or Vegetable (A Wonderful Wooden Reason)(Crumb Duck)'.
Starting on a dubbed out, multi-tracked chorale, it then whispers into a staggering locked-groove surge that could go on forever in your dreams before winding up on the most bizarre spills of noise you'll ever hear. It's the longest, most ambitious and most stunningly accomplished track you'll hear from the cutting edge since Pram's 'In Dreams You Too Can Fly'.
Oh, yeah, never forget that. This LP (which looks so damn fine) must stay at the top of your pile, pulse these tracks in from nowhere like artic blasts on your compilation tapes. Because you NEED THEM THERE. Because life simple wouldn't be intact without them. Use Stereolab. Use them like Astrud Gilberto, Schoolly D and Mikey Dread, because in a room, in a street, in a head that transparently ISN'T, Stereolab can fool you into being pretty damn COOL.
For that alone, acquire now.
[live review from Gloucester, at the time still kinda freshly notorious for Fred West who oddly enough was prepared for burial in Coventry at the funeral parlour over the road from my flat at the time. Remember also on a train, bumping into a prisoner fresh out of Macclesfield nick, about a year later who'd been in Winson Green the night West topped himself and who swore down in our ensuing conversation that 'it was an inside job between the warders and inmates - there's no way he could've got his own rope'. Funny the illuminating conversations you can have on a train. My personal fave was an epic two-hour chat between Bristol Temple Meads and Manchester Picaddilly with a practising exorcist & freemason-investigator called Ronald]
Stereolab, Gloucester Guildhall
2nd March, 1996
They play Wu-Tang Clan in between bands. Any other double rock bill and I'd take it as an apology, a desperation to show they’re aware of the limits, if not exactly pushing themselves, shackled as they are to the practical gap ‘tween imagination and realisation. But they have no need to apologise; both bands understand that the way rock works is precisely in that chafing point where unlimited desire and the machine in front of you start ripping each other to pieces. And tonight is two bouts of controlled, violent sex I'm more than willing to watch unfold.
“Stereolab?” asked a friend before I left. “Arenít they too white for you?” “That’s what I like about them”, I snapped back. Tetchy fuck when rumbled. See, I have no idea what Stereolab are on about, all that French-disko-Krautrock-ezylizznin-Situationist-Marxist-bubblegum schtick is out of my mental reach. And therein lies their appeal. Itís the steely implacability of their ideas, their monomaniacal intent in perfecting them, the fact that because their particular mix of aesthetics is so peculiar to them it seems as if theyíre making music to soundtrack their own lives. Whatever those lives may be like.
I haven’t seen a show both so lacking in individual ego and so totally suggestive of ideas I don’t understand, personalities I have no idea of, lifestyles I can’t envisage. So what reels me in? The hooks, the sounds, the hints left, the politics (they at least are immediate and amenable) and the moments where they funk like a bastard. Yeah, you heard me.
'Metronomic Underground' nicks wholesale the rhythm section from Masta Ace's 'Take A Look Around' and layers it with lambent waves of Pram-like synth. The best tracks tonight come from the new LP; they have a warmth that was previously lacking, a thumping, chunky boom-bap physicality that stops Stereolab being a purely mental exercise and turns them into something like a neo-plasticist groove collective, a white Funkadelic with Piet Mondrian at the helm. Tonight, the title track of that new opus, 'Emperor Tomato Ketchup' is just slamming, redolent of Pere Ubu circa 'The Modern Dance', but even more dead on, garage music for the psyche, perfected and stellar. 'Motoroller Scalatron' has a nursery-rhyme vocal but jettisons the Lab’s usual 4/4 surge for a more open rattle and thump; everything else is still in place and perfect but this new awareness of beats and space is propelling Stereolab into new, fascinating territories all the time.
Stereolab are finally becoming a band you can love rather than admire, a band where your physical response doesn't feel inferior to your understanding. And yet their rhetoric, because it ís bound up entirely in their look and stage presence, maintains a cool intrigue that forces you to keep decoding, keep listening. That ís the addiction. Make way for the motherlode.