Stereolab – Sound Dust

Stereolab
Sound Dust

Stereolab has always sort of been that cool kid in high school that you always wanted to get to know better. This is a little different than a crush, you see. A crush you might actively pursue. No, this is different. This is that kid who just sort of always seems funny, or always seems cool, or is just sort of always the kind of in the places you want to be. For some reason, you think you’d probably get along rather well with this person, even though you don’t know them that well. Despite all this, however, you never really get up the nerve to talk to this person. I mean, you might make some witty comment in the hall and hope that they notice, but beyond that, you’re just not willing to expend the amount of energy it would take to be this person’s friend, no matter how cool it would make you feel.

Stereolab is sort of like that for me. I mean, I’ve heard plenty about them. Sometime last year, they did an opening stint with Sonic Youth. I mean, if Sonic Youth is willing to drag them around, they can’t be that bad. And besides, Stereolab is always popular with those hipper-than-thou indie kids who somehow always manage to wear cooler t-shirts than me. So to be quite honest, I was rather surprised when I got this promo in my mailbox. After all, Stereolab is a rather established band, and since I haven’t heard more than little bits about their music, I didn’t know quite what to expect.

Truth is, at least on Sound Dust, the fine folks of Stereolab are noisemongers of the highest order. They bang old analog synths into horns and anti-melodies and breakbeat drumming all over the place. They have all of these little xylophone flourishes and even a little guitar here and there. They pay a whole lot of attention to detail. The female vocals are often accented by backup female vocals Bjork-style. The songs don’t necessarily follow any structure or format, and often they segue from one formless part to another, often totally unrelated, formless part.

Sometimes this works really well. The third track in “Captain Easychord” has such a bombastic, sexy horn hook that I can’t stop listening to it. Of course, halfway into the song, all those horns drop out and give way to a spacey atmosphere that has little to do with the buoyant lines of the first half of the song. Still, it works. The first song, “Black Ants in Sound-Dust,” actually sort of sounds like its title – a constant buzzing is cut to shreds by an oscillating vocal pattern and some rickety, cracked, synths. “Hallucinex” carries the same spirit of puzzle-piece studio mystery, but it adds an acoustic warmth that wraps the song around your ears like that shaggy hair you had back when Kurt Cobain dictated your wardrobe.

When Stereolab successfully mixes its keyboard fetish with soulful horns and lilting vocals, the results end up being pretty excellent. They do run through a few miscues. Most notably, the melodies never develop or linger. They go in one ear and straight out the other, without so much as a hook or a memorable line. In other words, the songs end up running together a bit too much for my taste. The ideas, though, are tasty enough, and I’m more than willing to indulge Stereolab their little miscues if they keep rubbing those horns all over me. Stereolab may never be your best friend. But at least you can sit back and admire their t-shirt every once in a while.