I'M SLIGHTLY EMBARRASSED to admit this, but I geeked out hard on the space-age lounge revival of the 1990s. There was something about the sound of vintage synthesizers and naively optimistic pop vocals—coupled with post WWII sci-fi imagery—that was utterly irresistible. It hearkened back to the days when people believed that technology could make life more fulfilling and when there were still exciting new frontiers to conquer, like outer space and Hawaii.
And while they were both campy as shit, neither the original space-age pop movement nor its revival three decades later were wholly without social relevance. The former helped candy coat Cold War anxieties, the latter hinted at the looming dot-com revolution—both, though now relegated to pop culture footnote status, had some small effect on easing society through drastic technological change. As such, the movements really weren't intended to have lasting impacts—the first died out when astronauts discovered that the moon really is just a giant rock floating in space, and the revival croaked when the internet turned out to be little more than a convenient way to get porn (a welcome development, sure, but hardly a social revolution).
So where does that leave a band like Stereolab, which helped usher in—and was ushered in by—a renewed interest in atomic pop? They were inextricably linked to the movement, mixing Moogs and Farfisa organs with Laetitia Sadier's dispassionate French vocals, and frequently making use of lunge-y rhythms like bossa nova—not the Brazilian version of bossa nova, the Americanized '60s version.
Nearly a decade after their contemporaries wisely called it a day, Stereolab is still cranking out music, including their brand-new album, Fab Four Suture. Luckily for their fans (myself included), the band has, with varying levels of success, transcend era-specific kitsch. But even through relatively abrupt changes in sound (like the funkier leanings of Emperor Tomato Ketchup) the band's output is instantly recognizable as theirs.
But for me, who was as big a Stereolab fan in the '90s as you could find (aside from the obsessives who collected every numbered, hand-printed Japanese-only single), the announcement of their new album was met with, "Oh yeah. They're still around?" So it was with some surprise to find that Fab Four Suture is, well, a pretty great record.
The collection is half made up of a series of singles released simultaneously last year, and half new material. The album's opening and closing numbers, "Kyberneticka Babicka Parts 1 and 2," are classic Stereolab—droning keyboards, driving but static guitars, and catchy melodies. The rest register some slight evolutions in sound, particularly the pushing of snaky bass lines to the front of the mix. But here's the biggest change: It's the first Stereolab album that has made me want to actually dance, instead of contemplating the implications of dancing on society. For a band that consistently takes itself too seriously, it's a welcome change.