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Peoplerock people, indie people, slacker peopleare ignoring the greatness in their midst. They have declared Stereolab old hat. They have listened to the band’s new album, Sound-Dust, and pronounced it a bore. Spin doinked the thing with a single-paragraph review and the number six. Six is not a happy number. The indie brats at Pitchfork treated the record as an excuse for jokey references to Burt Bacharach’s sexuality. And as I walked past the counter at DCCD one recent evening, a customer asked innocently, “How’s the new Stereolab?” “It sucks,” the cashier replied. Or was it “It fucking sucks”? I’m not sure. Indeed, Stereolabas we’ve grown to think of itis dead. The drony guitars, the Velvet Underground throb, the Moog bubbles are all but gone. But Stereolab has discovered something else, something better. The band has discovered a new set of groovesones in which the guitars are merely ornamental. Sound-Dust is full of dancey tracks with perfect horns and intricate bass lines that Miss E would Slim-Fast away 30 pounds for (check
out “Spacemoth” and “The Black Arts”), all anchored with the organic sounds of pianos, xylophones, flutes, and pedal steel. There are head-nodders such as “Nothing to Do With Me” and “Captain EasyChord.” There are songs painted with big brushes, songs that flutter up like butterflies, songs that are as baroque as Sunday mass. Ever since Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab has experimented with elements of electronica and jazz. Whether it’s the cut-up technique of Dots and Loops or the free-jazz blowing on Cobra and Phases Group Play
Voltage in the Milky Night, each new record has stretched out the group’s kraut-rock/Esquivel/John Cage-bubble-gum MO. If people are pissed that the band seems to be buying the same reissues as everyone else (Tom Zé, Neu!, Godard, whatever), they’re missing the point. And if they like guitars so damn much, well, they should listen to System of a Down. Nobody makes disparate source material danceable like Stereolab. And who else makes music theory feel so good? Jason Cherkis