On Second Thought: Stereolab – Not Music (2010)

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With Stereolab gone on (possibly permanent) hiatus, let’s admit that we took the “groop” for granted.

Right around Cobra and Phases each succeeding Stereolab album sounded like, well, another Stereolab album. So it’s easy to forget how varied and groundbreaking that sound is, over the years accruing loungey Lalo Schifrin stylings, buzzy Krautrock, Motown, bossa nova, swingin’ 60’s ye ye… And that just scratches the surface of their dense sonic palette, all overlaid with Laetitia Sadier’s Marxist croon. If sometimes this mixture seems a bit airless – well, that’s also part of its charm.

Not Music was recorded at the same time as 2008’s Chemical Chords, and initially it’s cut from the same cloth. There’s less Motown riffing on Not Music than its older sibling, but we’re still gliding comfortably along Stereolab’s latter day course of quirky three minute pop songs.

Then we hit “Silver Sands,” and all bets are off. Itself a remix of a Chemical Chords track, this 10-minute monster conjures up the Kraftwerk motorik and propulsive trance of the groop’s early sonic experiments and mid period golden age. From here on out, Not Music shifts gears, serving charming concise pop alongside sprawling remixes.

If this was, in fact, Stereolab’s swansong, it is a perfect one. There is no summing up or attempt to encapsulate their career. Instead, with its dichotomy of variety and consistency, Not Music sounded pretty much like a standard Stereolab album. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?

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Patrick Moran

Patrick Moran

Chicago native Pat Moran is a filmmaker who has produced and written five feature films, and served as producer and editor for Western Classics, a film series hosted by actor James Best. He also writes about music for Creative Loafing Charlotte. The best job title he ever had was "part-time vampire." Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Patrick Moran
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