Album: Stereolab

Sound-Dust, Duophonic
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The Independent Culture

Stereolab's 1999 album Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night was, for me, the first occasion on which their electro-lounge stylings surmounted the huge barrier of kitsch surrounding their endeavours. Alas, this follow-up takes a retrograde step in the direction of earlier releases such as Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops, the group scurrying back behind the comforting cover of irony and Laetitia Sadier's bilingual vocals. Employing terms such as "lyrical departure" and "formal unity", a song like "Baby Lulu" could be quoting from their own reviews, though the latter phrase is singularly inappropriate to most of Sound-Dust, which finds the band vacillating pointlessly between tedious repetition and inexplicable stylistic volte-faces, often in the same track. "Space Moth", for instance, opens with a minute and a half of electric harpsichord arpeggios in waltz-time against the hum of hovering synthesisers, before a tootling flute presages a drastic shift into the busier, more rhythmic body of the song: too long for an intro, it serves simply to confuse, a deliberate misdirection from which the song never recovers. Though the music's skittish manner apes the exotic, easy-listening style of lounge auteurs such as Martin Denny and Les Baxter, its calculated air of blithe gentility is ultimately too stiff and mannered to stand the comparison.

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