Stereolab - "ABC Music: Radio 1 Sessions"
(Koch Records 2003, KOC-CD-8623)
From Aural Innovations #24 (July 2003)
Since they formed in 1991, Stereolab has been defying probability. They create a unique, highly identifiable pop experimental sound that’s a blend of motorik Neu!-like rhythms, spacey analog electronic sounds, melodic 60’s pop vocals, space age bachelor pad jazz, vintage instruments, and noise. And if not quite the kind of band you’ll hear on popular radio, they have always been darlings of the media, and most of their albums have been released on major labels. Yet through all of it, they’ve never sacrificed their ideals in favor of commercialism. Stereolab are a genuine enigma in the music industry.
BBC Radio’s John Peel, who’s been discovering, pushing, and recording cutting edge artists since the psychedelic sixties championed Stereolab from their very earliest days, and brought them in for 3 of his famous Radio 1 sessions over the course of their career. ABC Music is the results of those sessions, covering the years 1991 to 2001. This is the closest thing to a retrospective or comprehensive "best of" set so far from the band, though none of these are the versions you will hear on their other albums. Each of the songs comprising this two-disk set was recorded live in the studio with Peel and presents versions sometimes stripped down and more low-key, at other times more amped up with energy. One song on the collection even has two different versions present here!
The first disk tends to focus on Stereolab’s slightly more pop-oriented tunes, proving that Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier, and the other members of the band are wizards at both the art of experimentalism and the craft of creating the catchiest of hooks. They have the ability to take those basic, minimalist motorik beats, and add touches and nuances to them to create almost any kind of song you can imagine, from the opening pounding rocker, Super Electric to the trippy, sunshine pop of Doubt and Laissez Faire. Other highlights on this disk include the driving surge and haunting melody of French Disko and the mellow tripping of Lo Boob Oscillator. This side also includes two different takes of Wow and Flutter, one with an organ heavy 60’s Spencer Tracy Band influence, the other with more emphasis on the rhythms, the vocals buried deep in the mix. Intriguing.
The second disk is the spacier of the two, with freaky, analog synths whooshing and wailing through almost every piece. We get to hear a bit of their noisier side here as well, like on Les Yper Sound, which starts out as a grooving, phased, analog noise freak out then melts into a melodic, rhythmic jam with warm washes of analog synth flowing beneath Sadier’s sing song vocals. The band has always seemed equally comfortable creating catchy 3 - 4 minute "pop" songs and stretching out and producing mini-epics of sonic strangeness that clock in at between 10 and 20-minutes in length, and this disk includes a particularly wonderful and spacey take on their classic, 10-minute long Metronomic Underground with a deliciously funky bass line and liquid synths bubbling and murmuring throughout. A definite favorite of mine.
It all makes for well over 2 hours of great music that is a great introduction to this band, as well as being of interest to long-time fans.
Visit Stereolab at their web site: http://www.stereolab.co.uk/.
The legendary John Peel also has his own web site at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/alt/johnpeel/index.shtml.
The Kock Records web site is at: http://www.kochentertainment.com/labels/kochrecords/default.aspx.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald