Tag Archive: Stereolab


Welcome to the first proper post of 2017. Some people reading the blog last year may have noticed that I tried to review more music by women, in fact I was trying to strike a 50-50 balance between the music I reviewed that was by men and music that I reviewed that was by women. I managed to get that balance. This year and beyond I want to try and achieve that balance in my own music collection. I know that I may never reach a 50-50 split as there are just less women making music but I feel like I manage to balance these things in the rest of my life (films, T.V. podcasts etc.) While the music industry seems uninterested in pushing women to the forefront of music (other than pop music). I personally love and respect women both in general and in terms of artistic expression especially in music but feel that my music collection doesn’t necessarily reflect it enough. So I want to tackle this lack of balance in my own collection and hope we can all spread this positive message far and wide.

I’ve come across lots of talented artists/bands/producers but I’ve decided to ask for some recommendations as female bands/artists/producers struggle to gain the same amount of attention as their male peers. To help with the recommendations process I have created a list of music that I own by/or featuring women. I hope that this list gives you an idea of my taste and avoids people recommending artists or releases that I already own. I’ve also included a list of priority purchases so you know what I’ve got in mind to buy in the future. I’d buy them all but my benefit won’t allow for that and I will still buy some music by men as this is about striking a balance rather than cutting something out completely. .

I’ve set up a new Twitter account, @HerSonicFiction, where I’ll share what female artists I’m listening to now. Feel free to Tweet your recommendations at me or put them in the comments below. If we can all use #HerSonicFiction then we can introduce each other to some great female artists and encourage even more people to listen to and buy music by women.

Albums I already own

Kate Bush – “Hounds of Love”

Elza Soares – “Woman at the End of the World”

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – “Man Alive”

Lindstrom & Christabelle – “Real Life is no Cool”

Solange – “A Seat at the Table” & “True”

Aretha Franklin – “The Very Best Of”, “Amazing Grace” & “Lady Soul”

The Staple Singers – “Be Altitude: Respect Yourself”

The Slits – “Cut”

Erase Errata – “At Crystal Palace”

M.I.A – “Arular” & “Kala”

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis”, “Tragedy” & “Loud City Song”

Deerhoof – “Offend Maggie” & “Breakup Song”

Stereolab – “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” & “Mars Audiac Quartet”

Colleen – “Captain of None”

Bjork – “Post” & “Medulla”

Erykah Badu – “New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War”

Neneh Cherry & The Thing – “The Cherry Thing”

Junglepussy – “Pregnant with Succcess”

Suzanne Ciani – “Lixiviation 1969-1985”

Kelis – “Tasty” & “Kaleidoscope”

Ikara Colt – “Chat and Business”

Janelle Monae – “The Archandroid” & “The Electric Lady”

New Order – “Technique”

Pixies – “Come On Pilgrim”, “Surfer Rosa” & “Doolittle”

Thee Satisfaction – “Awe Naturale”, Transitions”, “THEESatisfaction Loves Erykah Badu”, “Snow Motion” & “EarthEE”

Sleigh Bells – “Treats”

Patti Smith – “Horses”

Solex “Solex vs Hitmeister”

The Raincoats – “The Raincoats”, “Odyshape” & “The Kitchen Tapes”

Talking Heads – “Talking Heads ’77”, “More Songs About Buildings & Food”, “Fear of Music” & “Remain in Light”

Tom Tom Club – “Tom Tom Club”

Tamikrest – “Chatma”

Tune-Yards – “Nikki Nack” & “Who Kill”

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – “Fever to Tell”, “Show Your Bones”, “Its Blitz” & “Mosquito”

Jamila Woods – “Heavn”

NoName – “Telefone”

female-pressure – Various Artists – “Music- Awareness & Solidarity w- Rojava Revolution”

Priority purchases:

more Kate Bush – suggestions very welcome

Lauryn Hill – “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

Missy Elliott – “Miss E…So Addictive” & “Under Construction”

FKA Twigs – “LP1”

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “EARS”

Dawn Richard – “Redemption”

June was a relatively quiet month (as July will be) but there’s still four albums to report on, starting with….

This month’s biggest disappointment is the self titled début album by Blanck Mass aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons. This ambient album’s main problem is that apart from the devastating ‘Land Disasters’ and ‘Sundowner’ the rest of the album all sounds very similar and a lot of it recalls Oneohtrix Point Never, whom it has to be said has pretty much perfected this corner of ambient music. The tracks are overly repetitive and where other artists use this aspect to create hypnotic music this release feels boring and staid. The reoccurring use of field recordings of water and the wave-like synth sounds are a cliché within the genre and they aren’t deployed in any new or interesting way on this album. The digital feel of the album and the fact it was made 100% on a laptop makes it a polar opposite of Fuck Buttons’ hands on analogue approach, this might explain why I came away feeling the album lacks impact and anything truly engaging.

Next  “Perfect Darkness”, the new album from Ninja Tune’s troubled folk troubadour Fink. Though not an album that will grab most people on its first play there’s plenty of positives in favour of this release. First of all Fink proves he’s no one trick pony showing that he can enhance his trademark sound with strings (‘Perfect Darkness’) and electric guitar (‘Honesty’, ‘Warm Shadow’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’), he also manages to show a new lighter side on ‘Warm Shadow’, ‘Save it For Somebody Else’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’. In addition to this there is extensive use of extra effects and textures all of which means this is Fink’s most varied album yet. Not an instant hit but definitely a grower that could reveal much on repeat visits.

To mark the tenth anniversary of founder Florian Fricke’s death German label SPV have put together a two disc package. The first disc collects classic Popol Vuh tracks across the band’s 30 year career and the second disc is comprised of remixes. The first disc features tracks from the albums that were used as soundtracks to classic Werner Herzog films of the 1970s and early ’80s. This disc definitely does what it set outs to; to group the best moments but also be varied in the style, mood and textures. Included are the haunting opener ‘Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei’, the peaceful closer ‘Kailash: Last Village’ via the medieval ‘Bruder Des Schattens’, the shiny ‘In Your Eyes’ and everything in between. A great introduction to this underrated band and one that could entice some buyers to explore further.

The first half of the second disc is a disappointing selection with the exception of the Thomas Fehlmann mix, though that does sound like a Thomas Fehlmann track. These remixes adhere to a formula of focusing on particular elements of the songs and then writing a four to the floor track around them, some tracks acknowledge the mood or atmosphere of the original but a lot don’t and these come across as very lazy. Only a few remixers such as Mouse on Mars, Stereolab and A Critical Mass do anything interesting rhythmically with the mostly beat-less originals. The second half is an improvement with Mika Vaino’s ambient mix, Mouse on Mars glitch hop mix and Stereolab’s subtle interweaving of their own brand of analogue weirdness being particular highlights. The final track is an extended version of ‘Train through Time’, a track the most directly links Popol Vuh with dance music and this version gets to the dancefloor destination that the original only hints at.

The remix disc makes sense in a lot of ways with many of the contributors being signed to progressive German labels such as Kompakt who can be linked back to the philosophy of Popol Vuh and their fellow Krautrockers. Despite the second disc being a bit of a disappointment the first disc and the few good remixes make this a package worth exploring.

In addition to my initial thoughts which you can read in last month’s 2011: through my (biased) eyes Battle’s “Gloss Drop” has continued to grow on me and inspire new thoughts. The main one being that some tracks feature a concrete sounding backdrop that is juxtaposed with  Caribbean/Calypso rhythms and melodies playing over the top. This shouldn’t work but the band have bent these opposing sound to their will. The more I play the album the more enjoyable it is and the more Battles sound at ease with their experimental new sound. Like Gang Gang Dance’s “Eye Contact” this has barely been off the stereo and could be serious competition for the number one spot in the end of the year review!

Spotify playlist:

June playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Low” by David Bowie

Recommendations – July

A very quiet month in terms of new releases of note but here’s a couple that are worth checking out:

David Borden, James Ferraro, Samuel Godin, Laurel Halo, and Daniel Lopatin – ‘FRKWYS Vol.7′ 18th July (digital 30th July) (RVNG Intl.)

The latest edition of the brilliant FRKWYS (Freakways) series on RVNG Intl. is a collaboration between electronic music pioneer and composer David Borden and four stars of the current boom in solo synthesiser music. The track ‘People of the Wind Pt. 2′ is streaming at RVNG Intl. website and offers a preview of what is to come.

Steve Mason and Dennis Bovell – “Ghosts Outside” 18th July/25th July (Double Six)

Steve Mason (ex Beta Band) released joined forces with the much respected reggae artist / producer Dennis Bovell (producer of Linton Kwesi Johnson and U.K. Dub legend) to create the album “Ghosts Outside” which is released July 2011 through Double Six. The album is a radical ‘dub’ reinterpretation of Steve Mason’s “Boys Outside” long-player which was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2010. Download a free track ‘Yesterday’s Dub’ here.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Stereolab – “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” (Duophonic, 1996)

This month’s selection is a cult album of the highest order regularly cited by critics as one of the best albums of the 1990s (and in some cases ever) and universally heralded as Stereolab’s “high water mark”, “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” is an album made up of disparate influences and elements that have been masterfully combined into a coherent and thoroughly digestible whole. Their fourth album saw the band not only consolidating all their earlier achievements but pointing the direction forward into more diverse and often more difficult territory. The album stands apart as the band were able to overcome the difficulties they faced in putting together such a complex and uncomplimentary sound and still coming up with great results.

Stereolab formed in London in 1990 out of the ruminants of guitarist Tim Gane and vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Laetita Sadier former band McCarthy. They named themselves Stereolab after a department of Vanguard Records that demonstrated ‘hi-fi effects’ and set up their own label Duophonic to release a series of DIY 12”’s which would quickly gain much attention both for the band’s unique droning minimalist krautrock sound and the striking artwork they came packaged in. In 1992 the band signed to Too Pure Records and started to expand their line-up to include vocalist Mary Hansen, drummer Andy Ramsey, bassist Duncan Brown, keyboardist Katherine Gifford and multi instrumentalist Sean O’ Hagen (ex-Microdisney and future lead of The High Llamas). As the line-up expanded so the music evolved with a new lounge music influence making itself felt on “Space Age Bachelor Pad Music” EP (1993) and the band’s political lyrics being scrutinised by the UK music press. Critics have often cited Marxist ideas in the band’s lyrics; however though the band has admitted in interviews to their lyrics being political they have refuted the idea that they are Marxist. “In a 1999 interview, Gane stated that “none of us are Marxists … I’ve never even read Marx.” Sadier herself has mentioned that she has read very little Marx.”

By the time the band released “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” in 1996 they were firmer established in the indie charts in the US and UK and had built a cult sized following across Europe. Their sound had expanded further with the poppier exploits of “Mars Audiac Quintet” and their work for Charles Long’s art exhibit “Music for the Amorphous Body Study Center”. However, “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” would take the band even further out of their comfort zone because as Gane said, “otherwise it just sounds like what other people are doing” and Sadier, “you trust that there is more and that it can be done more interesting.” The album incorporates influences from hip-hip, funk, lounge music, French pop, and Gane’s person obsession – hi-fi effect records. The idea of a conventional ‘guitar’ band is almost completely abandoned in favour of a more flexible approach to sound, structures, grooves and arrangements. Stereolab were unafraid of using both cool reference points krautrock, funk, hip-hop and the decidedly unhip lounge music, French pop, hi-fi effects records and Burt Bacharach. As Gane put it, “to be unique was more important than to be good.” Produced by Tortoise’s John McEntire the album is multilayered but also loose and limber, not bloated by its extra detail but enhanced by it. From the opener ‘Metronomic Underground’ with its low slung funk groove and psychedelic build of Moog washes over the band evolving looped sound to the distorted alien garage rock sound of ‘Noise of Carpet’ and on to the ‘Cybele’s Reverie’’s swooping string quartet and the bouncy title track with its playful synth lines everything flows and works even though it really shouldn’t. The band’s impossible melting pot of intersecting influences somehow coalesces into some of the unique and genuinely brilliant music. Gane’s encyclopaedic knowledge of vintage music technology and techniques definitely gives the album an edge of many of Stereolab’s contemporaries e.g. Th’ Faith Healers, Quickspace, Pram, Laika etc. The sound of “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” is full of little tricks from the use of round panning (the guitar jumps quickly from left to right as the riff plays) on the guitar riff of ‘Tomorrow is Already Here’ to the delay applied to whole mix of ‘Les Yper-Sound’ causing it to lurch in and out of time towards its conclusion. In fact, the band animate the album using many unusual but brilliant use of the studio, guitar effects and analogue synthesizer that make the sound 3D (for want of a better word) and perfectly compliment the album’s retro futuristic artwork.

The album explores ideas of how consumerism has changed the world in a negative way causing society to feel confused and lost as capitalism forces them away from what Sadier believes society was built that is to quote “What’s society built on, its built words, built on words, built on work” (‘Motoroller Scalatron’) and “Originally this set-up was to serve society now; the roles have been reversed that want society to serve the institutions… alienation” (‘Tomorrow Is Already Here’). This is a theme that runs through the album and helps bind it together conceptually.

Since the album’s release it was unexpectedly included in the book ‘1001 Albums: You Must Hear Before You Die’ by Robert Dimery and Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the 1990s and as previously stated in universally heralded as the band’s “high water mark”. Though it’s difficult to pin point any direct influence “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” was had, Stereolab themselves spearheaded and inspired many forward thinking and similarly retro futuristic bands including Broadcast, Pram, Add N to (X), The High Llamas, and more recently Lali Puna, The American Analog Set and there’s even a hint of their sound and approach in “Underneath the Pine” by Toro Y Moi. 15 years on “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” remains as vibrant and vital as it did upon its original release!

Spotify playlist:

Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup

There were no massive disappointments last month so I’ll start by writing about a couple of average albums, then good albums, finishing with the best of the bunch.

First up is Canadian electro goth trio Austra’s – ‘Feel It Break’. This album definitely has its pros and cons; on the one hand its best tracks don’t suffer from being overly reliant on 80’s sounds to get its message across unlike many of their contemporaries. On the downside there’s only a few real stand out tracks and most these have already been out as singles for a while, the rest of the album does seem to be a repetition of their best ideas and by the end this becomes quite warring.

‘Air Museum’ by Mountains proved to be an interesting album, that I believe will need further listening to truly evaluate its quality. However, first impressions are mostly good; the tracks are never boring and seem to have one foot in the modern electro-acoustic/drone music camp and the other recalling early electronica and ambient artists such as Cluster and Kraftwerk. Interesting the tracks that bookend the album are the best and most organic, what occurs in between while good music and at least the equal of the bands contemporaries does raise the question, how much analogue synth music do we need?

The new Thurston Moore album ‘Demolished Thoughts’ is a solid effort that will please both long term fans and those that enjoyed his earlier solo album ‘Trees Outside the Academy’. Unlike previous Moore solo LP’s through this has a different feel, one that has more warmth and invites the listener in courtesy of Beck’s production and Moore’s more focused and tuneful material. Moore’s acoustic guitar blends brilliantly with the strings and Beck use these excellent performances to create space and dynamics using reverbs, echos and occasionally other effects and panning. The album is a lighter and brighter affair than I was expecting and this serves it well, its seems the most appropriate reference point would be ‘And Then Nothing Turned Its Self Inside-Out’  by Yo La Tengo, though this like a littler flip side to that album. In a couple of places the album reminds me of ‘Eureka’ by Sonic Youth associate Jim ‘O Rourke particularly on ‘Space’.

Though White Denim’s – ‘D’ may be not the album of the year I’d rashly predicted at the start of the month, though it has to be said ‘Anvil Everything’ and ‘Drug’ were pretty exciting tracks to be released in the run up to release. However this album is by no means a wash-out, it begins with a slightly misleading slice of Southern Rock but reveals a diverse range from an ever developing and maturing band. From the wah-wah funk of ‘Burnished’ to the emotional ‘Street Joy’ via Latin rhythms of ‘River to Consider’ and many points in between this album is well worth investigation and like other White Denim album will probably prove to be another grown, rewarding repeated listening.

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, ‘Hot Sauce Commitee (Part 2)’ is full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established fans with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

With ‘GOB’ Dels has produced an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album an overall curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political probs. in the U.K. and rape. Dels is able to change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

A breathtakingly ambitious album that brings together North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, twisted synth arpeggios are all bought together and work where it should fail spectacularly. There’s a new found clarity and a massive step-up in the quality of the tunes on ‘Eye Contact’ this is the record that their last album should have been and impress instant, whereas in the past songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. An album that gets better with every run through!!

Spotify playlist:

May 2011 playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction

Sonic Fiction Writer’s Albums of the Year… So Far

Classic’s Critiqued – ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’ by Stereolab

Recommendations

* = I’ve already heard this album and this is my initial reaction

Battles – “Gloss Drop” 6th June (Warp) *

As with any Battles release there’s a lot to take in and one listen simply won’t cut it in terms of any real in-depth analysis. However, the overall 1st impressions are good with the band proving they can do great things without former member Tyondai Braxton, who was always seen as a key member of the band. This is still definitely a Battles album but they’ve shed some of the uptight, over thought jazz-prog that had occasionally manifested itself in a frustrating way. This is looser band, a freer band. Drummer John Stanier is able to make his techno influences much more explicit and this and the Carribbean/Latin/Calypso influences that are littered throughout the album add a new rhythmic interest and lightness of touch that are both great new additions to the Battles sound. This isn’t a band trying to play techno or calypso through; rather they are trying to fold these influences into their already established sound. A bold statement from band that could have collapsed but has shown a new strength.

Fink – “Perfect Darkness” 13th June (Ninja Tune)

The new album by Ninja Tune’s troubled troubadour promises much. I’ve only heard the title track and a little of the track ‘Yesterday Was Hard On Us All’ and they are both quite different. The title track is dark and ruminative and defly adds strings to the already established Fink folk sound. The later is closer to the dry and intimate sound of his most recent albums, both tracks have made me very intrigued as to what this album has to offer.

Blanck Mass – “Blanck Mass” 20th June (Rock Action)

This is the first solo album from Benjamin John Power one half of Fuck Buttons and the one pre-release track ‘Land Disasters’ is like a more ambient version of the typical Fuck Buttons sound. It’ll be interesting to hear what else Power has come up with on an album produced completely on a laptop, when compared with Fuck Buttons more lo-fi and hands on sound.

Popol Vuh – “Revisited & Remixed 1970 – 1999” 20th June (SPV)

To mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Popol Vuh founder Florian Fricke, SPV are releasing a two-disc compilation. Disc one consisted of tracks collected from throughout the band’s life time including those from their famous soundtrack work with Werner Herzog. Disc two contains a series of remixes of the band’s material by the likes of Stereolab, Thomas Fehlmann, Moritz Von Oswald and Mouse on Mars among others. A compilation that will definitely be worth checking out for those new to these under appreciated electronic music pioneers.

Wow, I haven’t listened to as much music as I have in November for six months. In addition to all the new releases I recommended in the last 2010 through my (biased) eyes (and some on Not Not Fun I found out about later on). There was over 40 albums to get through for the our Albums of the Year to be unveiled in a couple of weeks time. I’m down to 5 more albums and the final list is shaping up but its not as easy as I thought it was going to be.

Back to November’s releases I really enjoyed Barn Owl’s ‘Ancestral Star’ for many of the same reasons I enjoyed Sunn O)))’s ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’ last year. The enormous drones are great for getting immersed in and theres some that feels right about listening to this music as the nights get darker and the days shorter. I’d also (more) highly recommend Evan Caminiti’s solo album ‘West Winds’ available via download on Thrill Jockey and Amazon.

Unfortuantly Bjorn Troske’s new album ‘Kokning’ didn’t prove to be worth the wait after all. Its too polite for my taste and really need something else to shake it out of  its generic House and Ambient stylings. Another album that disappointed was Stereolab’s – ‘Not Music’ on which I thought the band trod water, the material was recorded at the same as their last album ‘Chemical Chords’ and you could see why much of the material had been left off.

I feel the need to revisit the mysterious Jatoma’s self titled debut album as I wasn’t playing attention while listening to it and therefore won’t make a judgement on it yet. You can listen to it here.

The month did end on a high through with the brilliant double album of remixes, reinterpretations and covers of classic material from artists such as Konono No.1 and Kasai Allstars who’ve featured in the Congotronic’s series by Crammed Discs ‘Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics’. The long awaited new album by Kanye West didn’t disappoint either and though I’ve yet to decide if it does live up to all the hype and Pitchfork’s 10/10 review, its certainly an ambitious and wide ranging effort that reaffirms West as one of key players in the hip-hop scene.

Spotify playlist:

November playlist

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