Stereolab lead agitator presents new manifesto for epic electronics
It’s almost six years since news of the Stereolab hiatus broke and blimey, doesn’t their magical presence loom large as ever in their glaring absence. In September 2014, Tim Gane told Electronic Sound that the band “needed a break to do other things. Nothing specific happened to make us stop, but we don’t want to do anymore until something radically interesting occurs…”
Well this is interesting. And radically so. And it’s got Gane’s deft hand all over it, as well as Joe Dilworth’s heavy motorik propellant and the sound ears of long-time production collaborator Jan St Werner of Mouse On Mars. And though some might say “Alas, it’s not Stereolab”, there’s enough here to give the withdrawal-weary a massive hit of what they crave. And while Laetitia’s voice could’ve added a welcome femininity to proceedings, this isn’t Stereolab minus her, it’s something very much of itself. And with star turns from guests such as Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Sonic Boom and the splendidly-monikered modular synth wizard Holger Zapf, it’s jaw-droppingly great too.
‘Void Beats/Invocation Trex’ was preceded late last year by an early teaser in the form of a 7-inch single on the Ghost Box label’s guest artist series ‘Other Voices’, at which point Gane announced that “Cavern Of Anti-Matter are spectrum addicts, setting up tiny rhythmic cells and expanding on them in certain ways, splitting the melody and stretching out”, all of which makes sense once you’ve listened.
One of the “other things” that Gane has done over the last few years is curate a collection of krautrock and kosmiche from the long-gone Sky Records label for the Bureau B imprint and, as ever with much of Gane’s work, that vintage experimental Teutonic sound is very much to the fore here. But Gane – resident in Berlin for over a decade now – has never been a imitator and with the aid of his trusted friends knows precisely how to take an influence and interrogate its every detail for innovative potential.
Opener ‘Tardis Cymbals’ is a tour de force of reimagined motorik propulsion treated with that familiar, swirling pop choppiness we all know and love. The brilliant old school keyboards of ‘Insect Fear’ are sonorous and cyclic in a manner that is Cluster-like, but soon turns to call and respond with the exhilarating energy of Stereolabs’ ‘French Disko’. Even Kraftwerk are knowingly reworked in swirling art-techno on ‘Pantechnicon’, with a dark dance intensity that’d make Aphex Twin jittery. And everywhere there’s Joe Dilworth’s drums, near-exhausting in their ferocious control and particularly impressive where they combine with the robotic insistence of vintage drum machines, adding an element of dimensional disorientation.
There’s also surprises abound. Future-soul number ‘Freeze Frame’ is slick as D’Angelo, and ‘Blowing My Nose Under Close Observation’ is a crackingly tight electro-homage to Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa. You didn’t see those coming. ‘Planetary Folklore’ sets out more clearly some sort of COAM aesthetic. Sonic Boom reads extracts from visionary Hungarian op-artist Victor Vasarely’s monologues on the plastic arts before his voice is distorted and rendered with a sci-fi wonkiness that manages to sound playfully daft yet simultaneously inspiring and utopian. Set against a barrage of tension-building cymbals, it’s a virtuoso piece that encapsulates much of the spirit of this superior piece of work.
Invention is central and insistent melody is everywhere, bouncing around with effervescent optimism. ‘Void Beats/Invocation Trex’ is a masterful, joyously metronomic, electronic ding-dong.