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Stereolab | Instant O In The Universe (Duophonic/Elektra)
The lengthy two-year gap between this new five-track mini-LP and the last proper Stereolab album release (excluding last year's Radio 1 sessions compilation that is) is more than understandable. What with the death of long-serving vocalist/keyboard-player Mary Hansen earlier this year, Laetitia Sadier's brief solo moonlighting under the Monade moniker and the decision to self-produce new material in rural France without the long-standing studio assistance of post-rock 'legends' John McEntire and Jim O'Rourke, it's no surprise that this five-song set took so long to emerge. Perversely of course, the Stereolab musical template has barely been bent out of shape in the interim. So it's business as usual in terms of glistening drones, throbbing space-grooves and Anglo-French retro-futurism. Although Tortoise/Sea & Cake sticksman McEntire isn't at the percussion/production helm, his dextrous (live and programmed) drum sounds are splattered all over these richly textured pop-art explorations. There may be a few Hansen-like harmonies missing for Sadier's passive/pensive tones to bounce off, but the gaps in the mix are more than filled with the busy tussle between electric and acoustic instrumentation. As always Stereolab perform better when ploughing a melodic furrow through their lush and amorphous arrangements - as the sublime Jaunty Monty And The Bubbles Of Silence happily confirms. There is however, room saved - on the likes of Microclimate - for some more schizophrenic time signature skipping and stylistic switching to keep 'Lab purists pleasured. Moreover, this short and sweet set is a positive reminder of how Stereolab function far healthier within the time constraints of a shorter music format; making 'Instant O In The Universe' a trim and tasty reminder of just how compelling the band's cerebral pop craftsmanship can be.
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003