First of the Microbe Hunters

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It is no stretch to say that The First of the Microbe Hunters is the first recording that the hardcore Stereolab fans need not own. After all, it's the first that offers no new twist or turn on the patented 'Lab sound. The record plays like classicist Stereolab, filled with all of the trademarks - pleasant drones, reverb-drenched guitars, cheap organs, effervescent, hypnotic vocals - but it's all been done before. More than that, it borders on parody. There's no other way to read titles like "Outer Bongolia" and "Retrograde Mirror Form," two names that sound like sops to their burgeoning hippie/stoner audience. Such slips would be excusable if the music itself transcended mere titles, as it has before in Stereolab's work. Instead, Microbe Hunters feels as if the band is treading water without realizing it. What was once endearing has mutated into the irritating, as the chanted vocals, simple organ runs and endless, pulsating rhythmic drones alienate listeners instead of mesmerizing them. Why is that? Because there aren't only no surprises on Microbe Hunters, the craft is half-hearted and, ironically enough for this notoriously detached band, there is no soul (or at least their equivalent of it). It feels tossed-off, something that no other Stereolab record has sounded like. And, arriving on the heels of an album that also sounded repetitive and slightly stale, it does not bode well for the band's future. This could easily be where many longtime, hardcore fans get off the bandwagon.

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