Curse that Mike Myers! Thanks to his cinematic alter ego Austin Powers, I doubt that anyone is going to be able to listen to Stereolab’s music without using words like “shagadelic” to describe it. But doing so would be too demeaning for this group. At first listen, it probably sounds exactly like what you’d think kitshy, psychedelic pop from the ’60s should sound like if it was done in the ’90s. Rhodes pianos and farfisas compete to see how much they can outdistance each other, various analog keyboards bubble and froth, and Laetitia Sadier’s ultra-smooth and sexy vocals float drift and float through it all.
But closer inspection shows that these tunes are more than just ear-candy. They’re actually good songs, as hummable and catchy as anything you’re likely to hear. The spacey flourishes just sweeten the mix. But rather than simply fall into that “retro” bag, Stereolab weave in a healthy dose of post-rock (thanks to producer John McEntire) and vibrant electronics. Some of the songs tend to go on a bit long, like the 17-minute “Refractions In The Plastic Pulse,” but I think that’s a small price to pay when the music is so darn pleasant to the ears.
Check out the funky “Miss Modular” (which might’ve been heard in some swank London club from 1965 transplanted to 2065) for the best example of how Stereolab’s formula works. And the drum n’ bass-tinged “Parsec” (which you might’ve heard in a New Beetle commercial) sounds like the Barbarella soundtrack if it had been released on Warp Records. Incredibly listenable, downright catchy, and kitschy in all the right ways.