Over & Under | Stereolab


Andrew Younker

For English/French art-pop band, Stereolab, the only way to make honest music was to create constantly without expectations or looking in the rear-view mirror. Over their 20-year tenure in the rock undergrounds, Stereolab released 13 albums and 15 EPs ranging from good to incredible in quality. Founding members Tim Gane and Lætitia Sadier wrote many, many songs together over the years, and their later work is a far cry from 1992’s Peng!, but Sadier’s voice is unmistakable and all their albums are worth at least one dedicated listen. That said, if you need a little more direction on their most respected and overlooked work, you’ve come to the right place!

Overrated – Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Stereolab’s breakout came with this record. Though they never managed to break into the mainstream, and their next record, Dots And Loops, remains their magnum opus, Emperor Tomato Ketchup was Stereolab at their most refined up to that point. They took influence from early hip-hop, cleaned up their production, and improved their songwriting to great effect, piecing together a dazzling slow-burn of a record with krautrock-esque song structure and angular vocal recordings. “Cybele’s Reverie,” is an uplifting number, flourishing with a myriad of strings and harmonies under Sadier’s unfettered lyricism. “Les Yper-Sound” carries the middle portion of the record with its full-bodied synth bass and zapping keystrokes. The record deserves all the admiration and respect that it gets, but Emperor Tomato Ketchup seems to mark the era when Stereolab finally caught on, not the era where Stereolab made and released their very best work. After the perfect follow-up of Dots And Loops, Stereolab continued to improve and experiment until the day they split up in 2009.


Underrated – Chemical Chords

In 2008, Stereolab released Chemical Chords to a lukewarm reception. Fans of the band and music nerds alike adored it, but to new listeners, the record was shoved under the rug for being ‘non-essential’ or needlessly dissonant. Ten years later, Chemical Chords is seen as the band’s so-so last album, not worthy of much critical attention or thought. Despite the record featuring the band’s best production to date, Stereolab’s heyday had come and gone and this vivacious little LP flew under the radar. “Neon Beanbag,” possesses an intoxicating bounce, with hidden passages of urgency and dissonance sprinkled throughout. “Chemical Chords,” sounds vast and foreign, like the movie score for a perilous treasure hunt. The melodies on this record are alluringly atonal, pacifying your ears after a few repeated listens with headphones and an open mind. Sadier’s singing is as beautiful as ever, uniquely capturing the essence of every hard to place chord structure in the book. If more avant-pop fans gave this record a listen, free from the context of Stereolab’s endless and incomparable discography, they would discover a diamond in the rough, a singular piece of art worthy of admiration and influential acclaim.