Skip to main content

Ideas are an overrated commodity, especially when I CAN'T UNDERSTAND THEM


"Weird Science"
Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2) 
13trks/65 Minutes/Fp 

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.
Neil Kulkarni 

[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 

Melody Maker 

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.
Neil Kulkarni 


Popular posts from this blog


This was my dream. And it was so vivid it really happened. 
I hired a van. The expense was a concern but I needed the capacity. First the long drive north to Middlesborough. I knew he'd be at home, visiting relatives. Made sure my HeadBag was packed. Blindfolds and ballgags. Rope. Some starved, stroppy badgers. Maxi-pack of chloroform-seeped bogroll from Costco. Masking tape. As I eased onto the M1 I told myself again the story of how it was developed from the need for waterproof ammunition casings in WWII. I had to, I was bored, and it's a long schlep up to 'boro. Idly, after securing a mortgage for a bacon roll at Tibshelf, I had an argument with my other personality about whether Middlesborough was in North Yorkshire, County Durham or Teeside. 
Nothing got resolved. A plain-clothes officer pulled me off in the hardshoulder near Malton and issued stern words about punching myself while driving. No hilarity did ensue. I needed to focus. This was a serious business. By noo…


(photo by Pat Pope, full text)  MANIC STREET PREACHERS  ASTORIA, LONDON  SORRY, lifelong fan, but I’m a new convert. I got into them a week ago and here I am. (They start with “Faster and, after the dub and horrorcore they’ve played, it jarrs and fits perfectly.) OK, see it ain’t attitude cos anyone can do that, just cock a snook and suck your cheeks. It ain’t glamour. Glamour is boring. Glamour is loud pretty people who hug, hug, hug, giggling at your geek self all night. And it ain’t rock’n’roll; it was your rock’n’roll that made a nigger-hater the King, your teddy boys who Paki-bashed for Mosley, Notting Hill 1958, your rock’#n’roll build on SAMBO DON’T SELL. I ain’t interested and the Manics are way beyond that. (“Yes” is Stjepan Mestrovic’s “Balkanisation Of The West” turned punk anthem, as if it could be any more punk. No higher compliment exists.)    The four founding points of Manics songs – one: modern life is untenable. Two: no one ever gets used to loneliness. Three: if tr…


Tuesday June 28th, 2016.

OK, a week since the vote and hey, I know the drill. Similar to those habits you kicked back into after 9-11, after 7-7. Heads down. Don't notice the people crossing the road to avoid you. Don't register any reaction to the shop assistants who drop the change with a panic'd repulsion into your foul brown palm. Keep your eyes down, no eye-contact with anyone. Get through the street to safety because the street is a place where you are a target again now, just as you were as a child. Don't ever ever relax again because that moment where your vigilance slips, when you start doubting your own paranoia, is the moment when the van draws up and three pink faces look your way grinning, when the kids see their chance to have some fun, when the guy on his bike who you hadn't thought of leans into the pavement to spit his venom, when the words will come unbidden and deafening, those words that won't just fuck up your day but will haunt your sleep, …