Plundered from the same sessions that produced 2008’s ‘Chemical Chords’, ‘Not Music’ is Stereolab’s twelfth album and – it’s rumoured – their last. The official line is it’s out as a sweetener while the twisted pop veterans enjoy a hiatus from recording and touring, but there’s an air of the vaults being cleared, and integral contributions from the new breed of artrockers strengthen the sense of a baton being passed.
Not that it matters when these tracks were recorded. Whether assembled in 2008 or 1998, ‘Not Music’ is unmistakably Stereolab, quirky to breaking point, melodic, sporadically catchy and snootily intelligent. It’s rarely less than accessible but never compromises the band’s essential Stereolabness – that feeling they’ll finally be a chart-topping pop act when we reach the age of Barbarella.
So there’s little to bowl you over in the tinkling arpeggios and familiar title of ‘Delugeoisie’, the bossa nova shimmy and muted trumpets of ‘Supah Jaianto’ or the compact leftfield hooks and somewhat glaring irony of ‘Everybody’s Weird Except Me’. On the other hand, two minutes into ‘So Is Cardboard Clouds’, the glockenspiel is dropped for strident brass and suddenly Stereolab are Dexys Midnight Runners. More early 80s gold is mined on ‘Leleklato Sugar’ which jerks like ‘Ashes to Ashes’ before switching between driving psychedelia and fairy chords, all with the bassy squelch of Orange Juice’s ‘Rip It Up’. Unsurprisingly,‘Not Music’ is characterised by this restless hopping from style to style, which sounds pretty epic when it works – on ‘Sun Demon’’s fusion of Castaways riffing and high-speed mania, say – but just indecisive when it doesn’t – the crazed toytown oompah-pah of ‘Aelita’, for instance.
But interestingly – worryingly, whatever – the best tracks here are the remixes. Emperor Machine (aka Andy Meecham, formerly of Bizarre Inc) is no young buck, but he represents the next step in the Stereolab sound, taking those Radiophonic Workshop bleeps closer to the dancefloor, and his mix of ‘Silver Sands’ is excellent. It’s a 10-minute parallel road to ‘Autobahn’; prismatic synths (man) and spacey shards, slap-bass funk and tribal interludes, and all better than that sounds. Then there’s Atlas Sound (aka shrimpy Deerhunter chap Bradford Cox) returning Laetitia Sadler’s guest favours on his own ‘Logos’ album by turning ‘Neon Beanbag’ into a – yes – hypnagogic wallow in watery ambience, like Animal Collective with faders set to stunned. So the contributors bring the real goods, but their efforts prove there’s great base material to work with if you’re up to the job. Stereolab, challenging to the – possible – end.