erasing clouds

Stereolab, Margerine Eclipse

reviewed by dave heaton

Stereolab's musical personality is so well-defined that anyone who's heard one Stereolab album (or song, even) knows essentially what the rest sound like. Their music does have a basic formula, melding the history of pretty and futuristic-sounding pop music (from Neu and the Velvet Underground to lounge music and cocktail jazz) into a new sound, filled with light and lovely vocals, Moogs and guitars. The difference is in degrees; there's been no seismic shifts over the course of their 10 albums and many singles, EPs and compilations, yet they've continually colored their sound in slightly different ways, making it jazzier here or dreamier there.

As the group's first album since the horrible death of Mary Hansen, who had been singing harmony vocals for most of the group's existence, you might expect it to sound like a new beginning, but you'd be mistaken. It is at its very core "another Stereolab album," but if you love their music that's not a bad thing. The absence of Hansen's voice does give Margerine Eclipse an even more airy vocal sound for some reason (less contrast now that singer Laetitia Sdier is handling all of the vocals, I suppose), but overall fans will not be surprised.

Margerine Eclipse is filled with sensual textures and melodies; it also has propulsive rhythms that make it feel more direct than some of their recent albums. Where 2001's Sound-Dust often drifted off into a psychedelic dream-land, Margerine Eclipse is danceable in places, even veering near disco at the album's end. That fact might bring back to the fold fans who thought recent albums meandered too much. For me, however, Margerine Eclipse is one more great album in a discography filled with them. Stereolab's sound might remain the same, but it's just as sublime and fresh as ever. This time out, Stereolab match their slightly more energetic approach with lyrics that offer an especially optimistic call for listeners, to celebrate life, resist conservative governments, and in general push for the world to be a better place. Stereolab's music isn't just about pretty surfaces, though pretty it definitely is.


Issue 20, February 2004

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