Plumbiferous Media

Not Music – Stereolab

Nov 25th 2010
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Not Music - StereolabStereolab
Not Music
Score: 71

London electro-post-rock band Stereolab, founded in 1990, released their tenth LP, Not Music on the 16th – their last before going on indefinite hiatus. The album, recorded at the same time as 2008’s Chemical Chords, is as such possibly the last album from a twenty-year project, giving it quite a lot to live up to. Fortunately, Not Music doesn’t live up to its name – while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly music, and often interesting music at that.

Stereolab’s music rests upon a thick, varied layer of synthy electronic-toned instrumentals. This creates a very specific feel to the music – one that creates an oft-varied sound that, while it changes appreciably between tracks, makes for a style of sound that ties together the album. However, while the sound is certainly varied between tracks (within the confines of Stereolab’s style), that’s not always the case with the sound of specific tracks. On “Aelita,” for example, the group uses a very repetitive intro to open the track which could perhaps have worked were it half the length – but which, even at its relatively short 40 seconds, introduces a degree of tedium to a track hasn’t even really started yet. That’s not the only case where repetition prevents Not Music from fulfilling its true potential, and it’s always a pity when it happens.

Lead singer and songwriter Lætitia Sadier’s French-accented, elegant tone carries itself through Not Music, where it serves as much as an instrument as a voice. While this is unsurprising on an album with such a range of elements, it’s always an interesting technique (not to mention one that’s easy to do badly), and so it’s a nice surprise that Stereolab generally pulls it off, even including a quite successful harmony between two lines of Sadier’s voice on “Leleklato Sugar.” Sadier’s voice is not, however, simply instrumental – it stands alone on plenty of occasions throughout Not Music. Unfortunately, on those occasions, Sadier’s rather constant tone stands out, and not in a good way. Instead, those sections tend to grind away some – though certainly not all – of the artistry of the better sections.

As a product of the band’s approach to vocals, many of Not Music‘s lyrics blend into the music. As many of Stereolab’s lyrics are a bit repetitive, this isn’t actually a bad thing, as it lets Sadier create a constant melody in the sections where her vocals are more instrumental. However, from time to time, bits of interesting writing surface, such as “Silver Sands”‘ mildly surreal interlude: “This unique garden / The place where sunlight and water transform / Through interplay of opposites / Life manifests, love surfaces.” It’s a creative mix, and one that fits well with Stereolab’s musical approach.

Not Music is certainly an interesting album. Unfortunately, it’s not an excellent album. Issues with repetition and uninteresting sections pop up a bit too frequently throughout the album, marring the more creative and well-composed sections with elements that are quite frankly boring. That’s not to say that the album is a failure – it does plenty of things in such a way as to create genuinely creative sound – but it’s not a complete success, either. It’s not a bad album, but as a going-away present from a band like Stereolab, it’s a bit lukewarm.

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