Stereolab's sounds come around again

December 04, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier often wonders about why trends take shape, and what they say about our culture.

Take sounds, for example. Back in the '60s, Farfisa organs, electric harpsichords and Moog synthesizers were the absolute cutting edge of music technology. By the '80s, those sounds seemed almost quaint when compared with Linn drums and electronic keyboards like the Prophet V and Roland Juno synthesizers. Now, of course, it's the '80s technology which seems dated, while the '60s sounds feel like classics.

"Things seem to captivate people's unconscious psyche at a certain time," she says, in her slight French accent. "It's all meaningful for a period of time, and then it's considered tacky and horrible. And then it's back in fashion again.

"Yeah, it is a strange phenomenon, and yet, it happens all the time."

She should know. After all, when she and Tim Gane began making singles as Stereolab in 1991, the group's fondness for Farfisas and Moogs, blank beats and samba-influenced harmony -- the sonic hallmarks of '60s modernism -- seemed an intriguing quirk at best.

Six years later, Stereolab's innovations seem almost prescient, as "analogue chic" has become an indie rock obsession. Vintage instruments are everywhere, op-art designs are back in fashion, and "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music" -- a phrase Stereolab co-opted for a 1993 album title -- is now a sub-culture buzzword.

Sadier isn't entirely convinced that imitation is flattering. "Ultimately, I don't want bands to sound like us," she says. "I want bands to sound unique to themselves." She has nothing against a band taking its inspiration from other bands, of course. But that should never take the place of originality.

"I mean, we're inspired, and copy sometimes. But it never sounds like whatever we copy," she says. "The influence is there, but ultimately it sounds like us. Basically copy it, but still forge your own personality. Then it's interesting."

"Dots and Loops," Stereolab's latest, is a case in point. Although there are plenty of influences bubbling through the music -- anything from Philip Glass to the Swingle Singers to Todd Terry -- the band's essence is unchanged.

Sadier credits the band's writing process for much of that. "You're led by the song," she says. "We come in with a very basic idea. We don't even practice the song. It's just, everyone knew their parts, and throw them onto the computer, and then [add] new ideas upon that frame. As you get a new idea, then another one comes to you.

"You have all your parts, and then you have to put them all together like a big jigsaw puzzle, you know?"


WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: 9:30 Club, Washington


CALL: 410-481-6500 for tickets, 202-265-0930 for information

SUNDIAL: To hear excerpts from Stereolab's new release, "Dots and Loops," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6179. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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