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Stereolab



Ten years ago, who'da thunk that an amorphous musical entity centered around an English/French couple with a yen for far-left politics and taste for esoteric musical styles and outdated musical equipment would turn out to be one of the hippest and most influential bands of the '90s? All right, pat yourself on the back if you bought the Slumberland "Switched On" LP back in 1992. Well, that, as you all probably know already, is the story of Stereolab, a complex, malleable, constantly evolving group who helped bring an affection for analog recording technology and an appreciation for fringe styles like Krautrock, bossa nova, tropicalia, film music, space age bachelor pad lounge, and lushly orchestrated pop back towards the mainstream.

An Englishman named Tim Gane and a Frenchwoman named Laetitia Sadier were the main instigators. In time keyboardist/singer Mary Hansen, drummer Andy Ramsay, bassist Duncan Brown, and guitarist Sean O'Hagan (who would later leave to start The High Llamas) joined up. Over their first few albums (Transient Random Noise-Burst with Announcements, Mars Audiac Quintet), their sound tended towards a quirkily high, pleasant, buzzing synth- and guitar-derived drone offset by bouncy, sing-song female vocals in French and English -- a style not far removed from the English shoegazer pop of the late '80s and early '90s. To a certain extent, that trademark style persists in their music to this day, but with 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup, maybe their most popular and influential album, Stereolab moved a away from their initial avant-garde leanings (lounge, Krautrock) and towards some new ones (hip hop, dub, dance). Then with their next two albums (Dots and Loops, Cobra & Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night), they turned towards lush '60s pop, tropicalia, and jazz fusion, ironically becoming influenced by a trend they helped spawn -- the Chicago post-rock movement exemplified by Tortoise.

2001's Sound-Dust found Stereolab on the stylistic move yet again, going both backwards and forwards. The album is full of lilting melodies which bounce through a clean, soap bubble wonderland of lazy horns, multiple organs, tropical percussion, harpsichord, playful guitars, sound effects, and lots more. The world's most interesting easy listening band continues to evolve and their musical adventures are a pleasure to listen to.

A timed download of Stereolab's newest single, "Captain Easychord," is available here. It will expire September 31. "Long Life Love" is the B-side of that single.