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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to…Stereolab, the early EPs November 28, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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One of the oddities of music in the 1980s and even well into the 1990s was just how inaccessible it was. Take motorik. I only infrequently heard Neu or Can during that time and certainly didn’t have an album until the mid to late1990s. And so my view of them and motorik in general was, in a way, shaped by others who came after (The Church memorably on the album Gold Afternoon Fix emulated, or is that replicated, the first two minutes of Neuschnee on their track Essence).

Exhibit A, Stereolab. Those of us with long memories will recall McCarthy, founded by Tim Gane, and their fantastic politically literate post-punk, well actually a little later than post-punk, but certainly of that ilk. McCarthy deserve a This Weekend of their own, but it will wait.

Founded in 1990 Stereolab was a sharp turn in direction from that pursued by McCarthy. Gone were the male vocals. Gane was still central, but now there were french accented female vocals courtesy of Laetitia Sadler. In were analog synths. The guitars weren’t jettisoned but the sound was different. Throbbing motorik excursions. Crisp drumbeats.

Nor did this mean they jettisoned the politics, anything but. Yet it was wrapped in a softer sound. The touchstone was a mutation of krautrock, wrapped in an imagery of sound recording experiments and so on. It was, to me, enormously appealing at a time when proto-Brit pop was stalking the land.

It was also almost unfeasibly catchy, though fair to say it never lit the charts alight. Ep after Ep appeared with new even better tracks. And somehow I wound up buying a lot of them. If you want to capture them more fully the album Switched On is a compilation of some of their earliest recordings – indeed two further ’Switched On’ compilations were released. But here’s a sampling of tracks from those EPs I got. They’re useful because they span a defined time in the life of the group, from an initial rawness, not so much in the sound, though there is that, but also, somehow in the aesthetic – as if they’re attempting to strip down songs to discrete elements in order to work out what makes them tick (which perhaps they are). Thrumming basslines, staccato melody lines, a certain economy of approach abound. That was to change and fairly rapidly – not least with the involvement of Sean O’Hagan, late of Microdisney, and who collaborated on some of the later early EPs. And where they ended up while evident in the early tracks was some distance away. I like the later stuff, some of it a lot, but I love the earlier output.

Super-Electric, all the way from 1991, sparks with all the energy its title suggests, fading in on squiggling synth sounds and a brilliant Neu like drone – it’s also remarkably muscular as the guitar (?) sound spits and fizzes towards the end of the track. Jenny Ondioline is just about perfect – everything that motorik promised and more (and there are at least two versions, both much longer, and while you’re at it check out the lyrics). But then is so French Disko too, nestled away as track number 4 on the Jenny Ondioline Pt. 1 EP – perhaps their greatest song of this period. But perhaps these represented a break with what had come before, for the EP charted, a first.

And speaking of non-A-side tracks, check out the experiments and slower paced pieces, few of which are dull and most of which are exemplary – Au Grand Jour, Brittle, Changer, the list is endless. Ping Pong from the last of this raft of EPs, at least the ones I bought, is pop, horns and politics and freaking brilliant backing vocals (from Mary Hansen who died in an accident in 2000 but her input was central to the sound of Stereolab).

For a group who have had some remarkable highs the EPs prove they started as they meant to continue.

Super-Electric

Au Grand Jour

The Light That Will Cease to Fail

Changer

French Disko

Jenny Ondioline

Ping-Pong

Moogie Wonderland

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