Stereolab – Chemical Chords

Chemical Chords
4AD / Duophonic
Released 19th August 2008
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Stereolab are a band I’ve long admired from a distance. The snippets of songs I’ve heard have been intriguing, but never enough to stir a purchase. When Three Women surfaced on the net several months back something changed, and Chemical Chords became an essential purchase. Fast forward to having the beautiful double-LP on the deck, and the record suitably impresses.

The album sounds exactly how I expected a Stereolab album to sound; insistent, wistful and melodic. The bolshy Three Women remains a favourite, joined by the noir swirls of The Ecstatic Static. Pop immediacy flows through the album, interrupted briefly by the distortion of Pop Molecule with its driving rhythm and twisted beats. Frequently the pop feel flirts with retro novelty, absurdly squelchy analogue synth stabs burst into life on tracks like the breezy opener Neon Beanbag.

This retrospection only adds to the charm of this album. This set of tunes not only has that immediacy to pull the listener in, they have the sheen of songs that live in the memory and bear out further plays. Chemical Chords is no revelation though, merely the confirmation that Stereolab are, on this form at least, a fine groop!

Tickets for Stereolab’s December UK tour can be found on Gigantic (Brighton only) and the evil Seetickets.

Stereolab – Three Women (mp3)

Hot Chip – Made In The Dark

Hot Chip return to a scene with high hopes for their third LP, distinctly new territory from that encountered when releasing 2006’s Mercury-nominated The Warning. That album was released to an audience largley unaware of their charms. Signing to DFA probably helped in the hipster stakes, but the massive expectancy surrounding Made in the Dark can largely be attributed to two huge singles: Over and Over and Boy From School. These two great tracks helped mask some of their parent album’s weaknesses: length, derivation and oh-so-clever lyrical flourishes.

Made in the Dark shares some of those weaknesses, certainly the album is a few tracks too long. Strange too, is the proliferation of slower tracks. Not all of them are bad, the title track is a sweet soul number, with a vocal playing to Alexis Taylor’s fragile delivery. In complete contrast, the record comes out of the traps at a breathless pace. Out At The Pictures and the two advance singles, Shake A Fist and Ready For The Floor are frenetic, itchy tunes; the kind of thing that the group does so well. I still have a problem with the middle of Shake A Fist, a little too much on the ‘cool’ side for me. Of course, Shake A Fist  finishes brilliantly with a fantastic menacing synth rush.

Hold On is one of the LP’s highlights, conforming to the scratchy guitar and disco bass formula, extending it with funk rhythms: as if they have been learning about building great dance tracks from their US label boss, James Murphy. Hold On props up the second half of the record, much as No Fit State did on The Warning. When Hot Chip fail, they do spectacularly: Wrestlers and Bendable Poseable are just poor, both suffering from weak production and questionable lyrics: does anyone need a song made up of wrestling terminology? Certainly, Wrestlers particularly contributes to the second half slump, common to the three LPs they have released thus far.

Which is a shame, as when Hot Chip are on form they are a great band. Indeed, there is much to like about Made in the Dark, especially the first half. I’m sure that Taylor and Goddard are aware of what people see Hot Chip’s strength as, and respect to them for attempting something different, something that bodes well for a productive future. That doesn’t help the feeling that they could have done better with this record, especially given the anticipation surrounding it and their obvious continued potential.