Stereolab

Emperor Tomato Ketchup [Expanded Edition]

(LP - Duophonic UHF / Warp #DUHFD 11R)

Review by

Stereolab were poised for a breakthrough release with Emperor Tomato Ketchup, their fourth full-length album. Not only was their influence becoming apparent throughout alternative rock, but Mars Audiac Quintet and Music for the Amorphous Body Center indicated they were moving closer to distinct pop melodies. The group certainly hasn't backed away from pop melodies on Emperor Tomato Ketchup, but just as their hooks are becoming catchier, they bring in more avant-garde and experimental influences, as well. Consequently, the album is Stereolab's most complex, multi-layered record. It lacks the raw, amateurish textures of their early singles, but the music is far more ambitious, melding electronic drones and singsong melodies with string sections, slight hip-hop and dub influences, and scores of interweaving countermelodies. Even when Stereolab appear to be creating a one-chord trance, there is a lot going on beneath the surface. Furthermore, the group's love for easy listening and pop melodies means that the music never feels cold or inaccessible. In fact, pop singles like "Cybele's Reverie" and "The Noise of Carpet" help ease listeners into the group's more experimental tendencies. Because of all its textures, Emperor Tomato Ketchup isn't as immediately accessible as Mars Audiac Quintet, but it is a rich, rewarding listen. [Like all of the 2019 Stereolab reissues, Emperor Tomato Ketchup's bonus material is lovingly curated and provides an illuminating look into the band's creative process. Fans will be especially excited about the two rarities included here: "Freestyle Dumpling," which was previously only available as a bonus 7" included with the Japanese version of Aluminum Tunes, is a shining example of the band's bouncy, philosophical pop from this era -- and a reminder of how strong the rest of Stereolab's material was at the time that they didn't include it on the album. Likewise, the breezy, brassy "Old Lungs," which was formerly included on a 2002 All Tomorrow's Parties collection curated by Sonic Youth, is another delight. The Emperor Tomato Ketchup demos are also a treat, offering stripped-down but still intricately lovely sketches of songs such as "Cybele's Reverie," where Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen's glorious vocal interplay takes center stage. A slower, almost sultry version of "Percolator" and a surprisingly subtle take on "Metronomic Underground" are among the other fascinating moments. Combined with Tim Gane's insightful liner notes, this edition of Emperor Tomato Ketchup is a must for fans of the band and this landmark album in particular.]

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