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Stereolab


Country of origin:

England and France

Type of music generally:

Ethereal '60s pop/rock

Status:

Most recent release, Chemical Chords (2008)

See also:

Stereolab's site

Comparisons:

Can, Faust, Soft Machine, Pram

Covers/own material:

Own, very occasional covers

General comments:

Stereolab formed after the breakup of McCarthy and carried on the socialist message into a pop vernacular. They are a marriage of Philip Glass and The Beachboys—experiment and vocal harmony. Their sound has evolved from a simple drone into a hodgepodge of Brazilian '60s sounds, bubblegum pop, and repetitive trance influences. Earlier they used to be more rock-oriented, with more of a droning and engaging (if that's possible) sound, more The Velvet Underground. Their high-mark commercially came with Emperor Tomato Ketchup in 1996. Since then, well, their sound has gotten progressively more jazz-pop, which has alienated lots of their older fans. It's not surprising that first-time listeners find it kind of thin. The stuff they are doing now is frankly rather hard to get into at first, and live is kinda flat; however, on cd it bears up on repeated listenings. Underneath it all—holding everything together—are the voices of Laetitia and Mary Hanson. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

They basically take a bunch of '60-style synthesizers and put it all together with a '60s/'90s sensibility and smooth female vocals with lyrics critical of current society. My favourite is Peng!, an early, smooth and forward-moving one. Second favourite is Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, the most alt rock of theirs. I also really like Emperor Tomato Ketchup, which is a recent one and has the great "Noise of Carpet" on it. The only one I don't like is Mars Audiac Quintet, which is too '60s poppy for me. (Neile)

Comments about live performance:

Playing live they still do not have a galvanizing stage presence, to put it mildly. they speak scarce a word but the mumbled 'thanks' or 'merci' and they hardly move except to change instruments, apart from guitar mainstay tim gane who rocks back and forth and shakes his head vigorously. nonetheless, the good mix allowed them to recreate and even surpass at times the charms of their albums, among which i would count: dense and hypnotic grooves which are sometimes repetitive, but more often go through complex textural transformations; weird noises; a sometimes goofy pop sensibility (many of the lyrics are in french, and many of the melodies sound like they might have come from the fifties). it was pretty neat to look at a stage with all six of these people on it:
          drums
guitar bassgtr keys
vox/gtr/perc vox/keys
and to be able to clearly distinguish each individual's contribution almost all of the time. this sounded fine, though quite loud. (dmw@mwmw.com)

I saw the Stereolab/Sonic Youth show last night. I only own their last album and it didn't meet my expectations (The album was recommended to me and I expected/wanted to be blown over.)
     The show was good (Not great, I don't think I would see them again). I was mainly really impressed with the quality of their voices. At times I felt like I was hearing Jane Siberry, a bit of Cranes and others. I think they would do a great job on a tribute album...singing some songs of other people, but with a twist. I'm not sure if I think their "sound" does justice to their voices. (6/00, adriftaway@yahoo.com)

I absolutely agree. I saw the show last friday and it was less than pleasant. Unfortunately I wasn't even able to enjoy the voices because the sound wasn't all that good. Slightly disappointed. (6/00, annedeming@hotmail.com)

Recommended first album:

Peng!, Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, or Emperor Tomato Ketchup. (Neile)

Switched On, Peng!, or Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Recordings:


Switched On (compilation)

Release info:

1992—Slumberland Records, U.S. (under license from Too Pure, U.K.)—22

Availability:

Out of print

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Seaya [Laetitia] Sadier—vocals
Tim Gane—guitars, moog, Farfisa
Martin Kean—bass
Joe Dilworth—drums

Guest artists:

Gina Morris—second vocals

Comments:

Compilation of singles from Stereolab's own Duophonic Super 45s. A good sampling of the main Stereolab obsessions, drones punctuated with synthesized bleeps and swirls; shows them refining their political message and one-chord-wonder sounds. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Peng!

Release info:

1992—Too Pure, U.K.—Pure CD 11

Availability:

Has been re(re)-released first on American Records in 1996 and most recently by another U.S. label containing Lo-Fi tracks.(jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Seaya [Laetitia] Sadier—vocals, moog
Tim Gane—guitar, Farfisa, moog
Martin Kean—bass
Joe Dilworth—drums

Produced by:

Robbs and Stereolab

Comments:

First full-length and still basically Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier. This is their first drone-fest.(jmgurley@drizzle.com)

This is a melodic wonder. Seaya [Laetitia]'s lovely voice weaving over their very '60s vibe and those strange lyrics. I fell in love with the sound of this album the instant I heard it—while it hearkens back to the '60s sound it sounds very new, and while the sound is repetitive it only builds in beauty. Ear candy of a most luscious sort. And with song titles like "You Little Shits" and "Stomach Worm". Avant gorgeous. What more could you ask for? (Neile)


Low Fi EP

Release info:

1993—Too Pure, U.K.—Pure CD 14

Availability:

Hard to find, collector's item

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Seaya [Laetitia] Sadier—vocals, moog
Mary Hansen—vocals
Tim Gane—guitars, moog, Farfisa
Martin Kean—bass
Andy Ramsay—drums, bazouki

Guest artists:

Mick Conroy—Farfisa
Robbs—piano

Produced by:

Robbs & Stereolab

Comments:

This effort brings on the harmonies of Mary Hanson which will become an increasing element of the Stereolab lounge subculture sound. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

the groop played "Space Age Batchelor Pad Music"

Release info:

1993—Too Pure, U.K.—Pure cd 19

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Lower than other discs of theirs

Groop members:

Duncan Brown—bass
Tim Gane—guitars, basss, Farfisa, moog, samples, radio
Mary Hansen—second vocals, moog
Sean O'Hagan—Farfisa, chord organ moog, bass, marimbas, air freshener lid, drum
Andy Ramsay—persuasive percussion
Laetitia Sadier—vocals, tambourine

Produced by:

The groop + Andy

Comments:

This was their last release before jumping from Too Pure to the major label Elektra (worldwide). Esquival-like '60s space-lounge music. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

Release info:

1993—Elektra—9 61536-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Groop members:

Duncan Brown—bass, twang guitar, speaking
Tim Gane—guitar, vox organ, moog, bongo, tambourine
Mary Hansen—second vocals, tambourine, guitar
Sean O'Hagan—vox organ, Farfisa, filmy guitar
Andy Ramsay—persuasive percussion, vox organ, bazouki
Laetitia Sadier—vocals, vox organ, guitar, tambourine, moog

Produced by:

Phil Wright

Comments:

other than long title of the week, this cd also boasts an accomplishment that not many bands can claim: they manage to ride the fine lines between the shoegazer thang, great pop music and preciousness. they bounce from song to song, switching from mellotrons to guitars without a shrug, churning out an interesting and engaging 62 minutes of fun! whee! honestly, I was not expecting this to be that great having enjoyed without being impressed their other work but this was a big surprise. they seem to be carving a niche for themselves in the music scene which was unexpected and welcome. (woj@smoe.org)

To most fans this is Stereolab's finest hour. Supposedly recorded in less than a week, it represents a sonic wall of sound that burst the doors open for 1990s drone-rock. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

I tried, and I don't hate it, but I just don't want to listen to it much. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

It's a really interesting album, but it's never the first Stereolab record I reach for. Some of those songs just go on forever and ever. (scottz@best.com)

I adore this album—it's my favourite after Peng! and is much rockier and noisier. A brilliant take on alternative rock, and a delight from the beginning to the end. I never tire of this. (Neile)


Mars Audiac Quintet

Release info:

1994—Elektra—61669-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Low

Groop members:

Duncan Brown—bass
Tim Gane—guitar, vox organ, Farfisa, moog, bass
Katherine Gifford—farfisa, vox organs, moog, backing vocals
Mary Hansen—second vocal, guitar, tambourine, eggs
Andy Ramsay—drums, persuasive percussion
Laetitia Sadier—vocals, tambourine, vox organs, Mint's organ, guitar

Guest artists:

Sean O'Hagan—bass arrangements, marimbas, slide guiar, percussion, twang guitar, tremelo guitar
Vera Daucher—violin
Jean-Baptiste Garnero—backing vocals

Comments:

Much, much sweeter than Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, which I liked much better. I love what they do with '60s instruments and sound and I adore Laetitia Sadier's voice and her great left-wing lyrics, but this album is too bouncy pop-sounding for me. (Neile)

A return to the loungy-side of The Groop Played..., and an odd mix of sounds that try to marry drone and lounge, not always successfully. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

I recently bought Stereolab's new album because of the overwhelming reviews. I'm very disappointed with it. I listened to it over and over to give it a chance to grow on me but it didn't work. The music is too dilettantish in my opinion and the voice is unbearable. (Dirk.Kastens@rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE)


Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2, compilation)

Release info:

1995—Duophonic, U.K.—DUHFCD09

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Groop members:

See previous recordings

Comments:

A great compilation of their singles of the last couple of years. I like this much better than Mars Audiac Quintet. It hangs together as a collection fairly well, too. (Neile)

Stereolab always been a great singles band, and this compilation of the middle-years show how well their songs rock and drone. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

grrrrreat compilation! (scottz@best.com)


Music for the Amorphous Body Study Center

Release info:

1995—Duophonic, U.K.—D-UHF-CD08

Availability:

Limited edition, hard to find

Ecto priority:

Medium

Produced by:

Stereolab

Comments:

Music as part of an art show with Charles Long. Amorphous pop with synthesized noodlings. For collectors and enthusiasts only. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Release info:

1996—Elektra—61840-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Groop members:

Duncan Brown, Tim Gane, Mary Hansen, Morgane, Lhote, Andy Ramsay, Laetitia Sadier—vocals, supercussion, bass, guitars, vox organs, Farfisa organs, analogue synthesisers & other electronics, electric pianos, tambourines, vibes, etc.

Guest artists:

Sean O'Hagan—string arrangements, Wurlitzer electric piano, vox organ, vibes
John McEntire—vibes, second guitar, various analogue synthesisers & other electronic devices, maracas & tambourines
Ray Dickarty—alto saxophone
Marcus Holdaway, Sally Herbert, Mandy Drummond, Meg Gates—strings

Produced by:

Paul Tipler & The Groop

Comments:

Stereolab went for the brass ring with this one, with a return to the hard-rocking style of Transient Random Noisebursts. Contains the marvelous single, "Noise of Carpet," and the mesmerizing "Metronomic Undeground." This was their swan-song to guitar-drone. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

It's not Peng! or Transient Random Noisebursts but it's nice to like them again after Mars Audiac Quintet. And I love "Noise of Carpet"—what a great song! (Neile)


Flourescences EP

Release info:

1996?—Duophonic, U.K.—D-UHF CD14

Availability:

Limited

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Groop members:

Tim Gane, Mary Hansen, Richard Harrison, Morgane Lhote, Andy Ramsay, Laetitia Sadier—vocals, Farfisa, guitars, bass, moog, vibraphone, Wurlitzer, piano, drums, electronic percussion

Guest artists:

Sean O'Hagan—Wurlitzer, piano, vibraphone, bass
Colin Calderwood, Mark Lockheart, Andy Robinson, Steve Brown—brass
Sean O'Hagan + Andy Robinson—brass arrangements

Comments:

After the departure of bassist Duncan Brown, this is the first disc with Richard Harrison. A fairly poppy and middle-of-the-road effort, but does contain "Soop Groove #1" which is their James Brown meets Philip Glass song. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Dots and Loops

Release info:

1997—Elektra—62065-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Groop members:

Tim Gane, Mary Hansen, Richard Harrison, Morgana Lhote, Laetitia Sadier, Andrew Ramsay—vocals, Farfisa organ, electric guitar, basss, analogue synthsizers and other electronic devices (for sound generating and filtering), Fender Rhodes piano, drums, beatbox, percussion, piano, clavinet, nylon string acoustic guitar, electronic percussion

Guest artists:

Sean O'Hagan—piano, Fender Rhodes piano, Farfisa organ
John McEntire—analogue synthesizers and other electronic devices, percussion vibes, marimba
Douglas McCombs—acoustic bass
Andi Toma—electronics, electronic percussion
Jan St. Werner—special electronics and insect horns
Xavier "Fischfinger" Fischer—piano

Comments:

Supposedly (as promoted by Elektra) Stereolab in the electronica era, which means that it doesn't sound like any other "electronica" band, more a melding of '60s Brazilian lounge music of Burt Bacharach. This album challenged lots of older fans who wanted more of the old drone. Repeated listenings as always reveal the nuances underneath the smooth surface. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

I am being driven crazy by it. I bought it after hearing "Miss Modular" twice. I find myself putting that cut on repeat and listening to it over and over. It's like they took a 10- or 20-second piece of Wakajawaka era Zappa and did a 4-minute variation on that theme (at least thats the 'sorta-feel' I get from it). The 1st cut is like the same thing but with a piece of Soft Machine instead of Zappa. The whole thing also reminds me of the ending to "Tenemos Roads" by National Health (out of Hatfield and The North and Canterbury stuff): the flowing simple theme with many variations and the tonal quality and harmonies of the female singers, keyboards, drums and bass but no lead guitar.
     I also find it impossible to sit through the whole thing. Any 1 or 2 cuts are fine but I just can't leave it on and let it play. I *can* listen to "Miss Modular" all day but the overall sound of the disc gets to me before it is complete. The vocals and harmonies elicit very strong resonances of recognition but the 'bell' never rings. I "know" I've heard that sound before, besides in the aforementioned "Tenemos Roads", but WHERE? (excuse me)..
     I love Miss Modular and like the rest of it. I have acquired several other Stereolab CDs and found one or two cuts on some and nothing on others that I can listen to with any regularity. Zappa had a term: statistical density that needed to be pierced by the listener. Much Stereolabis to tough for me to pierce. It may or not be because Dots and Loops has a sound reminiscent of Hatfield and the North, an old favorite of mine. (
zzkwhite@ktwu.wuacc.edu)

I find this album a little uneven. I've never been fond of Stereolab's more pop side, and there's some display of that here, but some of these tracks that I like a lot. (Neile)

Their most sustained musical statement to date. (beckwith@ime.net)


Aluminum Tunes

Release info:

1998—Duophonic/Eastwest (Japan)—AMCY-2871-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Stereolab fans

Produced by:

Paul Tipler and The Groop (except one track produced by John McEntire)

Comments:

A hodgepodge collecting rare and some single releases from 1995-1998. Shows their shifting musical styles. Includes their hard-to-find collaboration with sculptor Charles Long, Music for the Amorphous Body Study Center. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

A third collection of b-sides and other rare tracks from Stereolab. This is essential for fans and has some wonderful things for more casual Stereolab listeners, too. Probably not a good introduction, though, for new fans. (Neile)


Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night

Release info:

1999—Elektra—AMCY P066

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Groop members:

Laetitia Sadier, Mary Hansen, Tim Gane, Andy Ramsay, Morgane Lhote—vocals, guitars, organs, electronics, drums, percussion, occasional bass, electric harpsichord, clavinet, Wurlitzer, tack piano

Guest artists:

Simon Johns—bass
Sean O'Hagan—organs, electric harpsichord, clavinet, occasional bass, acoustric guitar, tack piano, brass arrangements
John McEntire—vibes, occasional keyboards, drums
Jim O'Rourke—occasional bass, guitar, keyboards, some percussion, string arrangements
Dominic Murcott—vibes and marimbas on 4 tracks
Kev Hopper—musical saw on 2 tracks
Rob Mazurek—cornet on 4 tracks
Colin Craley, Andy Robinson, Stever Waterman, Mark Bassey—brass
William Hawkess, Sophie Harris, Jacqueline Norrie, Brian G. Wright—strings

Produced by:

John McEntire and The Groop

Comments:

A minimalist approach to jazz stylings. Knockout track is "Blue Milk". A better, more cohesive album than Dot and Loops—the tunes are much more distinctive and catchy, and more jazz-based, still with a pop underpinning. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

More pop-experimental-avant jazz-lounge-kitschy good stuff from this unique group. More instrumental than their previous one Dots and Loops, some cool tunes. "Free Design" is my favorite so far. (nnadel@hotmail.com)


The First of the Microbe Hunters

Release info:

2000—Elektra—62537

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Groop members:

Laetitia Sadier, Mary Hansen, Tim Gane, Andy Ramsay, Morgane Lhote, Simon Johns—all instruments

Guest artists:

Sean O'Hagan—additional instrumentation all over the place

Comments:

A welcome return to a bit of drone mixed in with the jazz. It manages to combine the mesmeric and repetitive with free-form jazz embellishments. The best track is the first, "Outer Bongolia"—it definitely has a '60s French pop sound layered onto the drone sound they are more famous for. Ranks with the best work. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

Sound-Dust

Release info:

2001—Elektra—62676-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

L. Sadier—singing, percussion, whistles, sound effects
M. Hansen—singing, percussion, whistles, sound effects
A. Ramsey—drums
S. Johns—6-string bass
T. Gane—electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, electronics, tape echoes and delays
J. O'Rourke—electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, vibes, marimba, glockenspiel, electronics, tape echoes and delays
S. O'Hagan—electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards
J. McEntire—keyboards, vibes, marimba, glockenspiel, electronics, tape echoes and delays, percussion, whistles, sound effects

Guest artists:

R. Mazunek—cornet on 2 tracks
C. Taylor—2nd drum kit on 1 track, cymbals on 1 track
M. Jorgenson—electric harpsichord, Rhodes electric piano
G. Kotche—crotale (?) on 2 tracsk, marimba on 1 track
T. Barnes—bongo on 1 track
Jeb Bishop—trombone
Max Crawford—trmpet
P. Mertens—flutes, bass harmonica

Comments:

Without question, their best album since Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements. Various musical approaches from previous albums are brought together, but this time with much more appealing melodies. I hadn't expected to fall for this album as much as I have. It's good to know that they can still push themselves forward after ten years as a band. It gives me hope that they will continue to do so. (jmgurley@drizzle.com)

I haven't much liked their recent discs but find this one much more catchy and interesting. It doesn't catch me as much as earlier discs like Peng! or Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, but I'm happy to hear that Stereolab is playing music that I'm more interested in listening to after a few albums I don't bother putting on the stereo at all. (Neile)


ABC Music: Stereolab BBC Radio 1 sessions, 2002

Release info:

2002—Strange Fruit—SFRSCD111

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Stereolab fans; it also wouldn't be a bad introduction to their music

Group members:

Tim Gane—guitar
Laetitia Sadier—vocals, keys, moog, trombone
Andy Ramsay—drums
Mary Hansen—vocals, guitar, keys

Guest artists:

Mick Conroy—keys
Katharine Gifford—keys
Morgane Lhote—keys
Dave Callahan—moog
Simon Holliday—electronic filtering, keys
Peter Kember—electronics, keys
Dominic Jeffrey—wurlitzer, farfisa
Martin Kean—bass
Duncan Brown—bass
Richard Harrison—bass
Simon Johns—bass
Joe Dilworth—drums
Gina Morris—vocals

Comments:

These are all various sessions that Stereolab has done on BBC Radio 1, dating from 1991 to 2001, and so they run the gamet of the band's styles and personnel. In some senses it's almost a best of—it certainly wouldn't be a bad introduction for someone curious about their music, and those who are already fans will love the live radio takes of the songs. (Neile)

Instant O in the Universe ep

Release info:

2003—Elektra—62893-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Comments:


Margerine Eclipse

Release info:

2004—Elektra—62926-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Andy Ramsay—drums, drum machines
Simon Johns—bass, 2nd drum kit
Tim Gane—electric guitars, electronics, organ
Laetitia Sadier—vocals, trombone
Dominic Jeffery—organ, electric piano, harpsichord, celeste

Guest artists:

Sean O'Hagan—keyboards, electric guitars
Jan Werner—"constructed his own Insect Orchestra", eletronics
Fulton Dingley—drums machines, synths, midi, percussion

Comments:


Oscillons from the Anti-Sun

Release info:

2005—Too Pure—Pure 160CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Stereolab fans

Comments:

Box set compilation, including: 3-CDs of rarities, singles, alternative versions, plus 1 DVD of promo videos and TV performances.

Further info:

For Stereolab information, disks, merchandise, send two IRCs (or SASE from within U.K.) to Duophonic UHF Disks, P.O. Box 3787 London, SE22 9DZ, U.K.

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