LAETITIA SADIER « Something Shines »(Drag City/2014)

26 Sep


While it would be impossible to still be producing the kind of boundary-breaking sounds of their creative peak during the ’90s, the founding members of Stereolab continue to release some very enjoyable music. The past year or so has seen Tim Gane returning to the motorik focus of the defunct « groop »‘s earlier records with his new Cavern of Anti-Matter project, while singer Laetitia Sadier has been keeping busy with her newly formed « country band » Little Tornados (album out next month) as well as her current career as a solo artist. Like the previous two full-lengths released under her own name (and her Monade project for that matter), Something Shines nicely recalls the space-age lounge pop of Stereolab — an easy listening blend of Brazilian bossa nova and MPB, mellow soundtrack funk, and closer-to-home French inspirations like the iconic Francoise Hardy and avant-chanteuse Brigitte Fontaine. Old fans hoping for any of the ‘Lab’s long, droning Krautrock excursions, however, won’t find that here; even the most experimental tracks are closer to a ’70s-era Alain Goraguer film score than Neu! But from the breezy open-chord jangle of guitar and melodic in-the-pocket bass lines, to the whirs of organ and vintage synths, and the lush accoutrement of vibes, strings, horns and flutes, there’s no mistaking Something Shines as coming from any place else than the Stereolab universe. Of course, Sadier’s gorgeous dulcet melodies — sung in both French and English — remain the centerpiece throughout and are as velvety as ever.

Something Shines is far from straightforward, however, and while pleasant to listen to, the arrangements are filled with twists and turns all along the way. Seven-minute opener « Quantum Soup » nicely shape-shifts between spacey, hypnotic jazz-funk and passages of free-floating cosmic tones, while « Butter Side Up » uses the same blueprint behind so many classics of her old band: retro sci-fi balladry that starts to percolate at the halfway point. Listeners might even mistake « Release from the Centre of Your Heart » as an unreleased Stereolab gem, with the rich layers of Sadier’s Free Design-inspired vocal melodies and soaring ’70s game-show-theme brass riding a slinky groove. In fact, the only real misstep of Something Shines comes near the end. Emboldened by Occupy and the ever-increasing gap between the haves and have-nots, Sadier’s pointed lyrics (« They are a class, they are at war/Their plan is to transfer our wealth to under their sinister wing ») during the darkly restrained « Obscuridad » come across as a clumsily spoken coffeehouse performance rather than the elegant allure of most of her other Marxist-leaning pop. Although heartfelt, Sadier’s call to arms is still at its most effective when she’s killing them softly with her song. Reviewed by Gerald Hammill





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