Stereolab – a novice’s view
Stereolab are a long-time leftfield favourite that seem to have drifted in and out of critical favour during their prolific recording life. Somewhat derisively referred to as an “art-school” band at stages in their career, they mine a similar, but less abrasive, territory to Broadcast: psychedelic retro pop flavoured with hypnotic medodies and chugging krautrock rhythms. At times it comes across as rather heavy on style and low on substance, the detached vocal style – often in French – recalls the icy conceit of Nico. But while there isn’t much to engage with emotionally in their songs, the Stereolab aesthetic is a very particular and beguiling one. It is easy to become lost in their kalaedoscopic lullabye grooves which are redolent of acid trip sequences in forgotten late-60s films. That is not to say that their sound has remained unchanged throughout, but this anthology shows that while the mood has largely stayed intact, they have continued to embrace new sonic concerns, from the shoegaze of the early period to flirtations with acid-jazziness and freak folk whimsy.
As a layman, I’m not qualified to comment on whether Serene Velocity best represents their output, any band with a die-hard following tend to provoke controversy with these types of release. However, if you are looking for a place to start – as the sheer size of Stereolab’s back catalogue makes it rather difficult to know where to begin – you can’t do much wrong with this. I suspect that Broadcast’s more industrial take on this antiquated-keyboard-retro-futurist-pop schtick is a little more purposeful than Stereolab’s, whose reliance on prettiness can be wearying. But there’s no denying Stereolab’s enduring influence in modern music, and one can’t help admire their resolve to keep refining their vision while fickle musical trends have come and gone. If you like Serene Velocity, you might also like Broadcast (especially 2003′s ‘Ha Ha Sound‘), Blonde Redhead’s ‘23‘, Lali Puna or Asobi Seksu.