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Stereolab - Chemical Chords

Released on 4AD, 8/19/08

Stereolab was one of the first groups to sport the label "post-rock" back in the early 90s. Their sound includes an abundance of vintage electronic keyboard heavily influenced by 60s pop, lounge, and experimental music. While Stereolab has received plenty of critical acclaim, understandably their unique sound has made commercial success elusive. However, for those who can appreciate the distinctive Stereolab sound, Chemical Chords should not disappoint.

Chemical Chords gets started with the bouncy, bubblegum sounding "Neon Beanbag". This track would seem to fit in well with just about any film soundtrack circa 1965-1969. Heavy on electronic keyboards, a simple, upbeat melodic theme, jaunty trumpet blasts, and Laetitia Sadier’s enchanting, ethereal vocals, "Neon Beanbag" is an infectiously saccharine track that somehow manages chic and quirky in equal parts.

Following "Neon Beanbag" is the trumpet heavy "Three Women". Not nearly as infused with 60s nostalgia, "Three Women" feels a bit less displaced in time. But, the track is no less eclectic than anything else one would expect from Stereolab. Cleverly laced with tambourine, xylophone, and no shortage of lounge instrumentals, "Three Women" is a track that goes down easy.

The well executed mélange of 60s nostalgia and post-rock sound comes shining through again in the stellar "Cellulose Sunshine". The vintage, tinny sounding electronic keyboards play well against the sweeping strings of the harpsichord and Sadier’s once again enchanting vocal backing. "Cellulose Sunshine" is two-minutes of pure musical escapism.

No less memorable is the title track, "Chemical Chords". Replete with harpsichord strings, Sadier’s siren-esque vocals, and some nicely placed trumpets, "Chemical Chords" is the kind of track well suited for late night lounging with a few cocktails. While it lacks the upbeat chirpiness of "Neon Beanbag" and "Cellulose Sunshine" -- the track is vaguely melancholy -- that doesn’t weigh it down. Somehow Stereolab manages to keep this less bouncy track from becoming too heavy.

Admittedly, many of the tracks on Chemical Chords have a similar sound and feel to them. One track that departs a bit is the whimsical and spacey sounding "Daisy Click Clack". The track starts off with a simple drumbeat and some piano. In short, the track segues into an odd amalgamation of piano, xylophone, and synthesizer only to be joined by Sadier’s crooning a few seconds later.

Stereolab said in the past that, "to be unique is more important than to be good". Arguably, Stereolab is both. In listening to Chemical Chords, it becomes all too apparent why a band as creative and innovative as Stereolab has yet to achieve any kind of substantive commercial success. What they create and produce is so eclectic that it can’t really be directly categorized or commodified. If there’s one criticism to be made of Stereolab’s latest effort, it’s that many of the tracks sound the same, but if you like Stereolab’s sound, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s hard to imagine any track on Chemical Chords rubbing someone the wrong way.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars