Not Music is a new album from indie veterans Stereolab. Those left frustrated by the ‘Lab’s current indefinite hiatus shouldn’t, however, get carried away. This isn’t a new new album, but rather a selection of 12 tracks recorded during the same sessions that produced 2008’s Chemical Chords, plus an Atlas Sound remix of old track Neon Beanbag.
Despite its unprepossessing title, Not Music is put together as meticulously as any Stereolab album released during the band’s 18 years of service. Better still, it has a cohesiveness that suggests these compositions were always intended to be heard together. And, while Not Music doesn’t represent a dramatic stylistic departure for the band (not, it has to be said, a claim that could be made convincingly for any of the band’s albums), there are occasions where the band nudges its trademark Krautrock-meets-lounge-pop sound into hitherto untested new areas, most spectacularly so on the ten-minute electro-disco centrepiece Silver Sands.
Everybody’s Weird Except Me kicks off the album and it’s instantly recognisable as a Stereolab song: Laetitia Sadler’s winsome vocals float atop metronomic piano stabs, chugging guitar, vintage synths and wordless, cooing harmonies. Like many Stereolab songs, it evokes places and objects more strongly than it does feelings and emotions: good things like Nouvelle Vague cinema, Julie Christie sashaying down the Kings Road circa 1967 and (to quote one of their early album titles) space age bachelor pads.
Indeed, the listener may be too busy luxuriating in Not Music’s warm, welcoming sounds to notice the intricacies of its arrangements, such as those found on the shape-shifting Delugeoise and the aptly-titled Two-Fingered Symphony. The album closes with Atlas Sound’s re-working of Chemical Chords number Neon Beanbag, which represents the ‘Lab at their most avant garde: the track bears no resemblance to the original, comprising instead 8 minutes of gently undulating noise.
Throughout their 18-year history Stereolab put out a string of always listenable, often lovely and occasionally brilliant records. By embodying all three of those virtues, Not Music continues this band’s admirable tradition from beyond the grave.