Stereolab

Sound-Dust

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While the two years between Dots and Loops and Cobra resulted in stagnation, the two years separating Cobra and Sound-Dust find Stereolab deliberately recharging their creative juices, delving deeper into avant-garde composition and '60s swing pop in equal measures. As the album opens with the minimal "Black Ants in Sound-Dust," it's evident that the group has restructured and pushed forward, even if it means that they're adhering to their time-honored tradition of expanding their trademark sound with new arrangements and influences. Frankly, after the stagnation of Cobra, any movement forward is welcome, and initially the record seems like a bold move forward -- a Stereolab instrumental album where the arrangements and production take the proper forefront, since every recording since Amorphous Body Center has illustrated that that's the group's real strength. Then, "Captain EasyChord" kicks in with a familiar, albeit catchy, mid-tempo lounge groove and Laetitia Sadier's singsong vocals, and the album is immediately anchored in overly familiar territory. And that's the biggest problem with Sound-Dust -- by this point the group's melodies, singalong choruses, and Marxist platitudes no longer sound fresh, they often sound like a straightjacket, preventing the group from pushing forward into new territory. After all, if it's taken on a pure sonic level, Sound-Dust can often be quite pleasing and intriguing, especially the sophisticated horn and flute arrangements, which producer Jim O'Rourke makes lushly alluring. It's hard not to wish that the entire record was constructed simply of instrumentals of this sort, since that's when Stereolab sounds fully recharged and gorgeous. As it stands, the album is held back by their insistence on simple songs and simple vocals that keep the record earthbound and solely the province of the already converted.

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