We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Stereolab’s Not Music is the second product of a 2007 recording session that could very well have been the band’s last. Having pushed through the 2002 death of singer and guitarist Mary Hansen, the outfit announced it was going on a “Hiatus/Sabbatical/Pause/Intermission/Breather” in April 2009. Should the band take the Fugazi route and turn that into something rather permanent, its finale will be a totally impressive one. There are the standard components. Opener “Everybody’s Weird” is classic Stereolab: Melodies layered over of mid-century lounge sounds and a backing vocal that could have been ripped from Ennio Morricone’s Duck, You Sucker soundtrack. “Supah Jaianto” finds the band employing the accent horns that made parts of its Dots and Loops so great. The crisp recording skills that are so essential for this all to come through—and are equal partners in Stereolab’s history—are on exhibit during the relatively slight “Equivalences.” Here, just a pinch of hard panning brings out the sound of the band’s picking, which then becomes a key, if just barely exposed, aspect of the track. And there are the vocals. Laetitia Sadier’s signature tenor remains the most identifiable feature of the band, mixed in, even as it is, with very familiar surroundings. But what’s most impressive here is the Emperor Machine remix of “Silver Sands.” The British electronic maestro was also handed the keys to the middle track from the other product of the 2007 session (2008’s Chemical Chords), and on “Silver Sands” he brings out the Krautrock that, for Stereolab, is almost always there and almost always buried, at least somewhat. With upfront synths that nearly overtake the drums, it’s not quite club music, but it has a nice bubbly quality that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a Kompact compilation. (That the man behind the remix has an apparent Can addiction further jibes perfectly with everything about the track.) Left to its own (undoubtedly massive collection of) devices, the band might not have gotten here—and, indeed, after “Silver Sands” finishes its members tease listeners with the sort of plinky arpeggio that might otherwise introduce a more modern electronic tune—right before heading back into more traditional Stereolab territory. But by leaving some of its legacy in the hands of others—Atlas Sound turns in an excellent, minimal remix of “Neon Beanbag”—Stereolab feels somehow freed. If this really is the active end for the band, a remixed half-life ain’t such a bad thing.