Pulsing synths and bells make the machine come to life in the form of Black Ants in Sound-Dust, a parrot of a system reboot within this newly constructed world of Sound-Dust, with Stereolabs as sole architects. It further populates the soundscape as the whirring of many different instruments swirl the machine into life, a flute being especially deducible. It helps draw the curtain towards a slowly starting program in a way that doesn’t overpopulate the room, and allows plenty of material for the audience to chew on in a rightfully post-minimalist contradiction.
This illusion of machinery is then broken by an attempt at enchanting the audience, the opening of Spacemoth. What is likely Mertens’s work on the flute help incorporate a welcome jazz to the fairy-filled follying ground. This song continues reinventing itself like a machine sentient only towards the dimension of its programming, analyzing itself and reshaping its very composition. Perhaps Hansen’s vocal work is a bit softer than it should be, especially in the whirling tandem of this pristine yet inquisitive arrangement, presenting how the album is rife with the marriage between chamber-pop, the space-age pop of the ‘60s, the bulging repetition and rhythmic effortlessness shown in krautrock, they assist in concocting one of the best possible outcomes of Stereolab’s genre wedding.
Through the course of eight years, their production has ramped up, their musical intuitions have further been honed, their songs no longer chained by boorish repetitions and instead propelled into their own vanguard of illusory minimalisms. They have become virtually unrecognizable from their 1993 selves.
A more friendly approach arrives through the company provided in Captain Easychord, with a more honed vocal work, especially strengthened by more acoustic passages maintaining the freshness of the sound. The piano especially assists in supplying an innumerably effective backbone for the instruments. All of this operates as usual until more electronic percussion takes over the track and everything is flipped on its head, a tango between philosophers transforming into an agitated elevator wait between incomprehensible robots built only with the purpose of slowly bobbing their titanium heads as if their necks were repurposed pistons. The abstractions painted within words only assist in supplying this song with the mystique needed to be refreshing as a hot spring relaxation.
The abstraction of the previous song creeps into the beginning of Baby Lulu, the loose opening then kicked back into position by a drum welcomed warmly. It dances suspended in the air, revelling in its own ideals, a vortex painted infinite hues using naivete and absorption into the many beautiful ballets ringing back into its ears. It swirls and spirals in its own sensuality expertly, a deafeningly incredulous reinvigoration of the prog-pop song, a proficient accretion disc of musical accomplishment that can go toe-to-toe with the masters of pop music. It then eases seamlessly into The Black Arts, chiselling a path for itself with no sense of compromise or artistic sacrifice. This machine has concocted the formula to its own self-consciousness, and is wriggling in a triumphant manner.
Although not as sensible as the counterpart before it, the song maintains the momentum of the album healthily. It grants itself the room to trod along to the beat dictated only by its heart. Whilst the vocals cloud the song from transforming into a notable piece of the album, the further enhanced psychedelia brought by a technique so simple as reversing the instrumentation gives the song micrometers more leeway.
Hallucinex further demonstrates the psychedelic ebb of the album, coughing out the unneeded ashes from The Black Arts and continues easing into an increasingly lush dimension of the peculiar and philosophy-fascinated deity that overlooks this record. It shares the same momentum and fascination that the songs before it provide, but it doesn’t bring nearly as much to talk about. Instead, it plants an itch. That perhaps it is time to further develop the sound in its entirety. So, what shall Double Rocker provide in the midst of this urge for a continued reinvention?
The song constructs itself from an esoteric ethereality, a realm of intrigue. It operates without eyes or a nose, only its hearing and its consciousness to interpret the realities from which it travels in and out of, careening in and out of purgatory, with its mouth utilised to narrate such travels as they occur. The concept is then rudely interrupted by a more accessible and funk-laminated rite, which despite the bold switch, likely had a better route for itself being an independent song rather than one stitchwork of two utterly separate realities. Drums, softer horns, other oddball tinkering percussions and many more lax lounge-lacerated anomalies build into its own point of interest, whilst somehow bastardizing what the song originally had. The main philosophy present in this song is: poor sequencing decisions. The machine is becoming confused with itself, it doesn’t quite know what it wants to become, or even if it understands what it wants to become.
Gus the Mynah Bird further fleshes out more earthly views, against capital to the point it’d likely speak in all lowercase. A more pulsing minimalism is present in the vocal section, where the pop arrangement arranges itself for the eyes of many listeners. Suddenly, in the midst of the album’s primary conventions, the piece unravels its skin, peeling it back to reveal nothing but pure cosmos hidden within the otherwise pleasant texture. Synths flash in and out of existence like signals from ships several lightyears away, vocals slowly adding themself into the mix before becoming lost to the nothingness that is nearly everything. This segment could go on for five more minutes with the soundscapes generally unchanged, but our glimpse into the infinite interstellar courtesy of Stereolab is then halted. An argument can be made that it also represents the promised freedom that their philosophies so yearn towards, given how much the lyrics play like an early 80s avant-prog record’s likely politics.
Immediately, Naught More Terrific Than Man helps tinker with clarification, as Hansen’s vocals focus specifically on power. The arrangements here seem especially indicative of the compositional plateaus of Bruno Pernadas. It’s the burst of softer guitar tones and keyboards that keep the song refreshing, and prevents it from falling into the whims of oblivion that other rare moments in this album decay towards. Instead, this song is provided a fault in terms of length and development. Naught More Terrific Than Man simply needs more time and more seasoning.
Nothing To Do With Me is especially slick. One of the most refreshing cuts of the album, it operates as if imitating the internal logic of a Tati film. It swivels in wild and welcome whimsy, as if operating a switchboard that dictates the chemicals of one’s brain. The drums are especially significant suppliers of the fresh air that inhabits the song, the changes overall assisting in keeping the remnants of the album’s momentum intact. It’s a black comedy through and through, with characters inquisitive as young cats, skulls thick as phlegm.
The album’s “epic” is Suggestion Diabolique, where drum beats alternate between each other as the philosophical indulgences of the album reach its utmost abstract apotheosis. The rhythm switches from smooth to sly and derisive, to an anomalous echoing oasis, and to a loose twinkling reflection of the constellations upon a trickle of ichor, its own trip-hop barrage.
The instrumentation keeps itself on its toes, as if performing a kick-dance on the top of a spinning dreidel. The vocals operate within the slower and more restrained sections, allowing itself to operate more proficiently rather than getting in the middle of a louder section as it has once done before. The song occasionally embarks on more classical ambitions as it slows down its spin with the weight of a planet. It loosens entirely as if in the process of unravelling, before a reversed piano knocks the breath out of whatever life remains in the song. Not with the intent to kill, but rather to introduce Les Bon Bons Des Raisons.
This whimsy landscape is more humbled from the start, teasing the audience with a furthered fairy-feathered lament before eventually giving into the demands. It doesn’t spawn the thought of psychic conformity, but rather something much more predictive. It marches on with its own baroque destinies, coughing out all unwanted musical restrictions, with the purpose of accomplishing a more profound ending, its own terms on what qualifies as surreal. The bubbles of which it has flaunted like the feathers of a peacock then pop on away, leaving behind the finished brew, as if the entire album was a potion concoction process, glasses thick as a proper pasta sauce, red stars collected within the bookshelf within words instead of a more literal cosmos.
Sound-Dust has a significant amount going for it and accomplished a generous amount of what it needed to achieve. However, an uncomfortable portion of material on the album qualifies as being rather trivial. Not only has their production, songwriting, vocals, dynamics, uses of repetition, and nearly everything about them been improved, but they have shown that there remains wiggle room even when that is all at new heights. With some shaving and a little more elaboration where it really mattered, this could have become one of the most notable pop albums of the 2000s.
For now, it is likely that the machine, this cauldron, is currently content with itself.
Trajectory of listens past the first: neutral.
Written 2/7/2023, 8:45 PM - 10:14 PM.