Stereolab

ABC Music:Radio One Sessions (Strange Fruit/Koch Records)

The bubbly sound experimentalist collective called Stereolab has made a profound mark on alternative music. Over its thirteen years in existence, the group has touched on bubblegum pop, space-age bachelor pad music, Krautrock, garage rock, acid jazz, and electronica -- often blending three or more of these diametrically opposed styles at once.

The release of ABC Music, Stereolab's collected contributions to BBC's Radio One music showcase from 1991 to 2001 (minus one 1997 session), cohesively places the band's evolution into a tight perspective. Early amorphous songs like "Super-Electric" and "Changer" are filled with a symphonic lushness. Layers of analog keyboards hum along, propelled by Tim Gane's droning guitar work inspired by Neu! records, while lead vocalist Laetitia Sadier's dark, breathy voice augments the mix. As the sessions progress, the group strips away layers of keyboards and guitars in favor of a more dynamic approach decorated with effervescent Moog synthesizers. Disc two sees the band adding a funk vibe and some horns to its songs: "Metronomic Underground" throbs along on a catchy bass hook while a Moog percolates in the foreground, and the four final cuts feature Sadier on trombone.

One outgrowth of Stereolab's later work was guitarist Mary Hansen's enhanced role from backup to second lead vocalist. Hansen trades choral duties with Sadier on several songs, and her high-pitched voice particularly shines during their interplay on "Nothing to Do With Me." Sadly, Hansen's fatal bike accident last December will undoubtedly foment major, unexpected changes as Stereolab prepares to record its next album without her presence.

 
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