Stereolab: Fab Four Suture

Fab Four Suture
Too Pure

Given their knack for artistic engineering, it's tempting to call Stereolab designers first and musicians a close second. It's compellingly strange that Stereolab's avant-leaning sound, when broken down into its component pieces, is built largely from some of the most utilitarian and accessible pop of previous generations. It's music that, 40 years ago, would aspire to portray a jet-age tomorrow to French martini drinkers and a bucolic summer to clean-cut California Mustang drivers. And even through the Krautrock pulse and the left-leaning philosophy in the lyrics, it is, at its roots, classic dance music.

That tendency shines through more vividly on Fab Four Suture than on any of their albums since Emperor Tomato Ketchup. The spiritual and musical regrouping effort of 2004's Margerine Eclipse, their first album after the loss of longtime vocalist Mary Hansen, was an early sign of this redirection, and this new album's emphasis on three- to four-minute songs filled with simple, rhythmic hooks solidifies it. Half of the album's 12 songs were released on three singles in September 2005, and while those tracks--notably the bouncy drone of the Beachboy-matic "Kyberneticka Babicka" Parts 1 and 2 and the Motown-into-post-punk groove "Interlock"--have had plenty of time to sink in over the last six months, the newer material complements them well. "Widow Weirdo" burbles percussively--like the drum machine from There's a Riot Goin' On encased in gelatin--before jumping into an up-tempo swing that recalls New Birth's funk classic "Got to Get a Knutt," all while Laetitia Sadier's voice jumps stereo channels with each syllable. The glitchy "Vodiak," with its hyperventilating Farfisa and go-go dancer freak-out percussion, make like ? & the Mysterians approximating IDM, failing, and creating something even more fascinatingly hyperactive.

And "Eye of the Volcano" strips the bluster out of late-'60s Chicagoid jazz-rock, leaving it with sparse horn stabs, watery guitar, a skulk-march of a rhythm section, and lyrical meditations on the misadventures of recent Western democracy. "We treat our bodies like machines/fascism within," Sadier laments. After 15 years, they've demonstrated that the best response is to treat their machines like bodies, their music a design for living.

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