Album: Stereolab, Chemical Chords (Duophonic/4AD)

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The Independent Culture

Stereolab have made no fewer than 11 albums, many more than indie titans like Blur, Oasis, The Smiths and New Order, and far outstripping the output of technopop peers such as Depeche Mode, The Human League and even Kraftwerk – yet their appeal remains as inscrutable here as on their earliest releases.

Listening to Chemical Chords is like being asked to admire a blueprint. It's all so arch and mechanistic: the stiff, methodical chord progressions, the synthetic sci-fi titles like "Neon Beanbag", "Pop Molecule" and "Vortical Phonotheque", and the opaque lyrical conceits delivered in a voice so disingenuously naif that it seems a wilful defiance of emotional expression.

There are a few slim alterations to the standard Stereolab sound, most successfully the jolly vibes hook to "Silver Sands", and most surprisingly the Motown-ish beat of "Three Women"; but too many tracks are salvaged only by Sean O'Hagan's string and horn arrangements. And things have reached a sad pass indeed when the most rockin' thing about your album is the strings.

Pick of the album:'Silver Sands', 'Three Women'

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