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CD Review: Stereolab – Serene Velocity

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If there is one band that can combine ordinary music sounds with electronic ambience and blend it together to give it a retro feel, then you have the group Stereolab. Serene Velocity is an anthology that brings together the sounds they have been creating for well over a decade. Stereolab first appeared in 1991 with group members Tim Gane on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Laetitia Sadier on keyboards and vocals; Mary Hansen on keyboards and vocals and Andy Ramsay on drums. Ever since they first came on the scene, Stereolab has gathered a big cult following and can be heard on late night college radio and the cooler stations on the lower end of the FM dial.

The disc opens with "Jenny Ondioline (Part 1)" from Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements. The guitar and keyboards have an upbeat jam while the drums keep a steady beat. The voices of the group give a different aspect to the tune, reminding me of those old ‘60s and ‘70s movies where the camera scans across the countryside of small-town America.

"Crest," also from Transient, has the sound of anticipation with the keyboards and drums going over the same melody with a slight increase in the tempo. The vocals challenge the music. Although the lyrics are simple, "if there's been a way to build it/ There'll be a way to destroy it/ Things are not all that out of control," they are repeated throughout the entire track and give the feeling like the song is building to some massive crescendo.

"Ping Pong" off of Mars Audiac Quintet brings in a horn section, adding to the upbeat drive of the drums and giving a genteel offset to the keyboards. Against the electronic keyboards, the horns relay the feel of old sounds that were played in the love vans of the ‘70's, an almost Marlo Thomas' That Girl sound that keeps the spirit rolling on its way.

All of Stereolab's tunes on this CD are upbeat, yet each has a very distinct sound. With its short, chopping guitar strums and mesmerizing bass line, "Percolator" adds that out-of-this-universe feel with the keyboards doo-wopping their way around the melody, as if they were jumping moons through out the galaxy.

The liner notes say "Space Moth", which came off Sound Dust, is the most structurally complex tune off that album. It begins with a hypnotic keyboard riff that plays like something out of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Then after a short fade out, the sound comes back with a ‘70s funk jam, but blends itself to a melodic trance groove. The vocals keep it on track, or so the group would like you to think, as the track itself seems to fly like a moth, sporadically with what may seem to have no purpose, but in reality does. As the track comes to a close, more horns play through and the tune sounds like the end theme to a ‘70s movie where everything works out all right.

publicity photo of Stereolab courtesy of Special Ops Media | hosted by TinyPic.comThe whole CD plays like this. You think you are going in one direction, but guess again. Stereolab loves to keep it fresh and no one song will sound like another on a Stereolab CD. "…Sudden Stars" ends the album and this was a great track to finish with. Combining all of the group’s talents, this track brings closure to the album and once the disc stops, you feel like, “Wow, what a trip I was on.” Stereolab is like that. They have the uncanny ability to fuse modern sounds with the quirky jams of what would be considered soft hits of the ‘70s back when bell-bottom pants were still hip. The only exception is Stereolab makes the sounds hipper.

Though the band has been through some hard times with the death of Mary Hansen in December of 2002, the group carries on, and since their first release in the early ‘90s the band has yet to disappoint their fans. Serene Velocity is a decade’s worth of work by this group, showing why they have a following and why they are one of the few bands that always have something new to bring to you. For those of you who know them, this is a great compilation. If it's your first time listing, enjoy and prepare to become entranced by the melodic ambient sound of Stereolab.

All of Stereolab's sounds create a sense of deja vu. Yet even though the retro sound pumps through, the group keeps a futuristic quality. This is the only group that can make the future seem like it already happened. Their secret is making not only good music to listen to, but keeping it fresh by mixing and adding from all over the music spectrum.

Written by Fumo Verde 

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS