Stereo Total

Musique Automatique

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Originally released in 2001 on Bobsled Records and re-released by Kill Rock Stars a year later, Stereo Total's Musique Automatique pares the group down to the core duo of Francoise Cactus and Brezel Goring. In the process, the album gains a newfound polish, particularly in the production, but also loses some of the spontaneous energy and wide-ranging influences that characterize the rest of Stereo Total's work. Sometimes this clean and glossy approach works: the endearingly clunky rhythm, plinky keyboards, boy-girl vocals, and low-rent sampling on "Automatic Music" are quintessential Stereo Total, and the smooth, sophisticated "L'Amour a 3" almost sounds like Ivy in a playfully amorous mood. Unfortunately, though, the more rock-oriented side of the group's sound suffers due to the occasionally sterile sonics. Punky songs like "Forever 16," "Le Diable," and "Ich Wiess Nicht Mehr Genou," which would've sounded explosive with a production like that on their previous album, My Melody, don't quite come off -- they're undeniably fun, but a little flat and too clean for their own good. Indeed, much of Musique Automatique is uncharacteristically monochromatic for Stereo Total. Too many songs are in roughly similar tempos and keys, and the fact that Cactus handles most of the singing, with occasional help from Goring -- as opposed to the varied vocalists on their earlier work -- adds to the album's surprising uniformity. Musique Automatique is unusually uniform emotionally, as well; with only one not-terribly-heartbroken ballad, the dubby "Adieu Adieu," the album lacks the exuberant highs and bittersweet lows of most Stereo Total albums. None of this is to say that Musique Automatique is bad; even a slightly disappointing release from this group has more to offer than "good" albums from less-interesting artists. "Wir Tanzen Im 4-Eck," "Je Suis un Poupee," and "Nationale 7" exemplify the fun attitude and fuzzy analog sound that suit Stereo Total best, while tracks like "Les Chansons D'O" and "Exakt Neutral" recall Ladytron's sleekly retro style. Overall, it's clear that Musique Automatique is a transitional album for the group; while their new directions aren't fully formed and the old formulas don't always work, Stereo Total is still both more stylish and more substantive than most of the current crop of synth pop revivalists. And, even more so than some of their previous albums, Musique Automatique will make fans wonder what they're going to do next.

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