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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