Since their 1991 debut, Stereolab has functioned as one of the most influential -- if under the radar -- bands of the pseudo-pop electronica circuit. Their extensive catalog helped to establish the climate in which today's indie-electronica hybrids (such as Broken Social Scene) have thrived. 15 years later, point-people Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier are still going at it with their March release, Fab Four Suture. And while the album drags at times, it inevitably succeeds, due in no small part to Stereolab's self-aware direction and refusal to stray from its charted course.
The group will show up in your iTunes under electronica/dance, but it's a categorization that is, as is often the case, somewhat hollow. "Kyberneticka Babicka Part 1" opens the album declaratively, although it falls somewhat flat due in part to a droning rhythm that fails to move as the piece progresses. The result, for better or worse, is akin to Of Montreal on opium, which isn't as fun as you'd expect.
On "Interlock," Stereolab's disparate influences are on full display. Employing a decidedly funk trumpet, traces of Bossa Nova are also readily apparent in the contained female vocals and sit nicely over the synthesized rhythms and digitized tones.
"Get a Shot of the Refrigerator," meanwhile, transports the listener to a similar world twisted upon itself, this time revealed as a sort of 21st century lounge composition. The head-nodding rhythm is entirely computer generated, while a synthesizer and trumpet take over the melody.
And while their tracks have a tendency to wear down three or four minutes in, the group's sound is deceptively simple. "I Was a Sunny Rainphase" begins as if in a celestial video game, before opening into a house-influenced funk piece. While the encompassing sound stays consistent, the various tones and instruments at play differentiate and move, creating a sonic landscape that seems to coil and uncoil, and in the process, undermine its own static qualities.
Although the album works best when taken as a whole, "Vodiak" gets the nod for best track. Here Stereolab finds itself especially strong in its melodies, interweaving multiple themes while anchoring the piece with an extraordinary drumbeat. This is Stereolab at its most provocative, and the overall impression is remarkable: think Belle and Sebastian on methamphetamines.
This comparison, however, is telling. Ironically, the album suffers most due to the work of the band's disciples. Within the context of a suddenly thriving and creative indie-pop scene, Fab Four Suture comes off as a bit basic, avoiding heavy layering and sticking to a relatively pop-oriented agenda. Combine that with their penchant for the hypnotic two-minute interlude, and the album can even, at times, appear unimaginative.
Overall, however, Fab Four Suture holds its own. A cohesive and conceptual project, the album places you in a mental state and conveys a cogent feeling. Especially once past the potential abrasiveness, Fab Four Suture blossoms into a solid piece of work -- one that could conceivably couple both pregaming and Adderal study sessions (the album makes you want to do drugs, what can I say). Operating on its own terms, Stereolab still manages to provide a little something for everyone. Especially if you haven't been exposed to the band, Fab Four Suture is a good place to start.bums: