Saint Etienne: Sound of Water

Saint Etienne
Sound of Water
Sub Pop

 

PITY NOT POP revisionists Saint Etienne. While it's easy for Anglophiles to claim this twirl-minded trio as Britain's most underrated export, neither co-founders Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs nor vox fox Sarah Cracknell gives a hoot whether the band is lauded or sodded. For nearly a decade, head held high, Saint Etienne has concocted a half-dozen albums of the sweetest house-infused atmospherics to poke out of the London clubs. And where lesser acts might have cashed in their club cred (Saint Etienne has been tagged as disco savants, mind you), they distinguished themselves from the conformity of the Eurotrash heap with a glitter-dusted version of Neil Young's creaky waltz "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" early on. Since then they've forged some of the most peculiar collaborations (a remix treatment from creepy Aphex Twin; a Swede-pop massage by Cardigans producer Tore Johansson) since David Bowie wassailed with Bing Crosby.

The trio's fondness for combustible chemistry continues as Cracknell, Stanley, and Wiggs jet off to Berlin to canoodle Teutonic post-rock combo To Rococo Rot. Recognized for their work with minimalist groups like Tortoise, Trans Am, and Stereolab, TRR compile the spare beats and noise that keep Sound of Water wonderfully placid. Dip in a tentative toe expecting the white-patent plastic of Saint Etienne's last studio epic, 1998's Good Humor, and you'll pause, only to fixate on the hypnotic plinky-plunky opening number "Late Morning."

Water covers thematic territory familiar to Saint Etienne--love, loss, escape--underscored by postmod beats, restrained orchestration, and Cracknell's easy delivery. The record's twin peaks, the nine-minute "How We Used to Live" and Sean O'Hagen-arranged "Sycamore," purposefully rise as techno symphonies rather than hummable ditties. Yet "Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi)" rolls along, coyly chirping its pop song at passersby. "Boy Is Crying" subtly winks and struts, while "Don't Back Down" gently asserts it might.

Think of the record as a soothing post-club opiate. Saint Etienne may retain a dance-diva image to downplay, but still, Water runs deep.

 
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