Stereolab simply cannot win. From being lauded in the early 1990's for their timely resurrection of the Krautrock pulse and their intuitive melodic sense, they have since been condemned by some elements for being both too cold and calculating and, incredibly, just too consistent to be taken seriously. Many have claimed that their flawlessly upbeat mix of driving rhythms, Gallic vocals and serpentine, incandescent arrangements have a soulless core; that their beautified art-pop is just too artfully poised to stomach. Others have followed them from the beginning, devouring every shrink wrapped offering with relish.
My personal take on Stereolab's output rests somewhere between the two camps. I've always enjoyed their earlier material, benefitting as it does from the innovations of the Krautrock pioneers and adorned with the simplest of melodic elaborations. Later, however, their infatuation with the loungey end of jazz and a tendency to exploit several genres without ever really exploring any of them proved somewhat alienating, bombarding the listener with a host of stylishly obscure references at the expense of cohesiveness.
That Stereolab have redeemed themselves with Sound Dust is an understatement. This is a glorious record, a technicolour collage of sound bursting with melodious intent and bolstered by chopped, exuberant rhythms worthy of the cream of todays electronica scene. The production credits are well worth noting; the presence of Jim O'Rourke and John McEntire at the mixing desk, a production dreamteam pooling two of the most able and inventive musicians of the last twenty years, ensures a level of aural sheen and sun kissed harmony that only those post-rock pioneers could capture.
Those oblique infuences are, admittedly, still here; every track is shot through with a motley collection of European soundtrack sounds, relaxed Krautrock washes (think Amon Duul II or Kluster) and tropicalia jazz figures. Crucially, though, the ideas here are kept concise and to the point, and every note seems purposeful. A sense of warmth, too, pervades the album, the beguiling French croon of Laetitia Sadier on the excellent 'The Black Arts' imploring, wide-eyed, "I need somebody."
A substantial riposte to Stereolab's critics, Sound Dust is an unrepentantly sunny, funkily rhythmic, multi-dimensioned gem, similar in character and invention to Jim O'Rourke's masterful Eureka or Tortoise's Standards. Outstanding.
9Tom Eyers's Score