Following her 2012 ‘Silencio’ album and hot on the heels of her new Little Tornadoes project, it’s a busy time for the Stereolab singer
Laetitia Sadier’s eyes burn out from the cover of ‘Something Shines’, despite the portrait being dizzyingly blurred. And that clarity and obscurity are in play throughout this album, the staunchly period musical elements forming a launchpad for unpredictable explorations and deconstructions, while Sadier wrestles moral questions and offers up the odd opinion.
The opener, ‘Quantum Soup’, sets out the template with its turn-of-the-70s picked bass and a ringing rhythm guitar in circular repetition that recalls Stereolab’s krautrockisms. Above it all, there’s a benign imprecision – fragments of organ, brass and Sadier’s French whispers looming and vanishing. Her voice was always the approachable element in Stereolab’s studious cool. As on several tracks, the relentless pattern collapses into uncertainty, with shapeless chording and electronic intrusions, before a mechanised bassline takes over.
Next up, ‘Then, I Will Love you Again’, all chiming ‘California Dreaming’ chords and a warm back beat, is easier to grasp. When Sadier sings, “I don’t see how to reconcile / How to transgress the binary realities holding us”, you might think “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?” would be a more suitable lyric. Instead, she discusses political theory in her calm, melodic delivery, citing Guy Debord’s Situationist manual ‘La Société Du Spectacle’ as her key text. The book, published in 1967, was seen as a catalyst for the Paris riots a year later and as a punk bible.
Throughout ‘Something Shines’, Sadier seems to be grappling with her 1970s beginnings, with the young adult lives going on around her childhood. The album’s soundscapes recall David Axelrod, Genesis and The Beach Boys’ ‘Surf’s Up’, hi-fi staples of that decade’s trench-coated students. It sometimes feels like nostalgia for a never-was futureworld, as in ‘Butter Side Up’, where we swim with the friendly (lovingly reconditioned) synths.
Amid the floating and the breakdowns, things do occasionally fall into shape. In a parallel 70s, Bacharach hears ‘What’s Going On?’, goes to the piano and composes the gorgeous ‘Release From The Centre of Your Heart’, and then calls Streisand to demo his latest smash down the phone. In sharp contrast, the ironically titled ‘Obscuridad’ ditches the production for a plain strummed acoustic, while Sadier states her position directly: “The ultra-rich in their impunity rot our society”. Elsewhere, her gentle presence seems to invite discussion of her conundrums, but the anger in her enunciation is unmistakeable and rather shocking here.
‘Something Shines’ is subtly ambitious, a welcoming and absorbing record. And with so much going on, it’s one that promises further rewards with repeat listens.