Stereolab — an experimental post-rock band formed in 1990 that created the 1996 sonic gem Emperor Tomato Ketchup — announced in 2009 that it was going on hiatus indefinitely, much to the disappointment of the band’s devoted fan base. But less than a year later, the group is back with a new album, Not Music. Unfortunately, Not Music’s content sounds just as bland and unexciting as the title implies.
On Not Music, the songs seamlessly shift from one to the next while Lætitia Sadier’s breathy vocals blend from English to French intermittently — and often indecipherably. The album’s purpose seems puzzling — it doesn’t really add anything new or innovative to Stereolab’s discography, and it’s not a fun listen. Kind of an ironic bummer for a band hailed by The Independent as “one of the most fiercely independent and original groups of the Nineties.”
The album does have its bright moments. “Silver Sands,” remixed by Emperor Machine, is a 10-minute synth-heavy dance jam that recalls Stereolab’s glory days as a krautrock-influenced band. The motorik rhythm is reminiscent of German electronic band Kraftwerk’s repetitious mechanical sound. The song has a denser, more foreboding feel in comparison to the album’s throwaway tracks.
However, these enjoyable moments are sparsely found on Not Music. Not that any of the songs are objectionable — it’s only that they could be much better if the band returned to its garage-rock roots. “Delugeoisie” is about as cheery as a deluge. Sadier drones on while a sagging tempo and tragic trombone provides the background.
Overall, the album is eminently forgettable. The “Neon Beanbag” remix that Atlas Sound provides on the record’s final track is a reminder of this. The original, which was the first track on Stereolab’s 2008 release Chemical Chords, is just better. Sorry, Bradford Cox.
Through the years, Stereolab’s sound has devolved from its more innovative roots toward more inoffensively lighthearted pop songs. Consequently, listening to the 13-track LP feels a lot like swimming through tepid, lukewarm water. It’s not an altogether unpleasant experience, but it’s still relatively mind-numbing. Likewise, most of the tracks fail to stir listeners’ interest and don’t leave much of a lasting impression. Instead, the album serves only as a minor ripple in Stereolab’s considerable discography.