Stereolab Overview

Stereolab are an alternative music band formed in 1990 in London, England. The band originally comprised songwriting team Tim Gane (guitar rhythm guitar /keyboard musical keyboard s) and Lætitia Sadier (vocals lead vocals /keyboards/guitar), both of whom remained at the helm across many lineup changes. Other long-time members include Mary Hansen (backing vocals/keyboards/guitar), who joined the group in 1992, ten years before her accidental death, and Andy Ramsay (drums drum kit ), who joined in 1993, and who is still in the official line-up. As of April 2009, the band is on hiatus.

Called "one of the most fiercely independent and original groups of the Nineties", Stereolab were one of the first bands to be termed "post-rock". Their primary musical influence was 1970s krautrock, which they combined with lounge lounge music , 1960s pop pop music , and experimental pop music. They were noted for their heavy use of vintage electronic keyboards, and their sound often overlays a repetitive "motorik" beat with female vocals sung in English or French. Stereolab often incorporated socio-political themes into their lyrics. Some critics say the group's lyrics carry a strong Marxist message, and Gane and Sadier admit to being influenced by the Surrealist and Situationist Situationist International cultural and political movements. However, Gane is sceptical of labels such as "Marxist pop", and defends the band against accusations of "sloganeering".

Although many of the band's albums have been underground hits, they never found larger commercial success. The band were released from their recording contract with Warner Bros. Records when Warner's imprint Elektra Records folded. The release was reportedly due to poor record sales, and since then Stereolab's self-owned label, Duophonic Records, has signed a distribution deal with Too Pure. Duophonic holds the copyrights to the band's recordings, and on the label the band have released many limited-edition records.

On 2 April 2009 Stereolab manager Martin Pike posted a message on the band's website, announcing that after 19 years the band would go into hiatus as "there are no plans to record new tracks".


 
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1990–199
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In 1985, Tim Gane formed McCarthy McCarthy (band) , a band from Es***, England known for their left-wing politics.

Dots and Loops was released in 1997, and was Stereolab's first album to enter the Billboard 200 charts Billboard 200 , peaking at #111. Barney Hoskyns wrote in Rolling Stone that with it the group moved "ever further away from the one-chord Velvets drone-mesh of its early days" toward easy listening and Europop. A review in German newspaper Die Zeit echoed this observation, claiming that in Dots and Loops Stereolab transformed the harder Velvet Underground-like riffs of previous releases into "softer sounds and noisy playfulness". Contributors to the album once again included John McEntire, along with Sean O'Hagan of The High Llamas and Jan St. Werner of German electropop duo Mouse on Mars. An unsigned NME review said that "this record has far more in common with bad jazz and progressive rock than any experimental art-rock tradition." In a 1999 The Washington Post article, Mark Jenkins asked Gane about the album's apparent lack of guitars; Gane responded, "There's a lot less upfront, distorted guitar ... But it's still quite guitar-based music. Every single track has a guitar on it." Stereolab added a new bassist, Simon Johns, for the Cobra and Phases Group ... tour. Critic Joshua Klein said that "the emphasis this time sounds less on unfocused experimentation and more on melody ... a breezy and welcome return to form for the British band." Klein also commented that "never has it been harder to discern just what [Sadier] is singing, but rarely has her gibberish sounded so pleasant."

On 9 December 2002, longstanding band member Mary Hansen was killed when struck by a truck while riding her bicycle. Born in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, Hansen earned the most attention for her vocal work with Stereolab, although she also played the guitar and keyboards. The music journalist Pierre Perrone said that Hansen's "playful nature and mischievous sense of humour came through in the way she approached the backing vocals she contributed to Stereolab and the distinctive harmonies she created with Sadier." (Future album and concert reviews would mention the effects of Hansen's absence.) In a 2004 interview, Sadier said that "Our dedication to her on the album [2004's Margerine Eclipse] says, 'We will love you till the end', meaning of our lives. I'm not religious, but I feel Mary's energy is still around somewhere. It didn't just disappear." That year, Sadier's side-project, Monade, released their debut album Socialisme Ou Barbarie: The Bedroom Recordings. Both the name of the group and the title of the album were references to the work of Greek-French intellectual Cornelius Castoriadis.


The full-length album Margerine Eclipse followed in 2004 to generally positive reviews, and peaked at #174 on the US Billboard 200. The track "Feel and Triple" was written in tribute to Hansen; according to Sadier "I was reflecting on my years with her ... reflecting on how we sometimes found it hard to express the love we had for one another." However, Kelefa Sanneh argued in Rolling Stone that Margerine Eclipse was "full of familiar noises and aimless melodies". Margerine Eclipse was Stereolab's last record on their American label Elektra Records, which closed down in 2004. Future material would be released on Too Pure, the same company which released some of the band's earliest material.

The album was followed by Oscillons from the Anti-Sun; a 2005 three-CD and one-DVD retrospective of the group's rarer material. Monade's second album, A Few Steps More, also appeared that year. In 2005 and 2006, Stereolab released six limited-edition singles which were collected in Fab Four Suture, and contained material which Mark Jenkins thought continued the brisker sound of the band's post-Hansen work. Serene Velocity Serene Velocity (album) , a "best-of" compilation focusing on the band's Elektra years, was released in late 2006. By June 2007, Stereolab's lineup comprised Tim Gane, Lætitia Sadier, Andy Ramsay, Simon Johns, Dominic Jeffrey, Joseph Watson, and Joseph Walters. The band had finished the production of their next album, entitled Chemical Chords, which was released in August 2008 on the 4AD label. The release of the album was followed by an autumn tour of Europe and the United States. They toured Australia in February 2009 as part of the St Jerome's Laneway Festival

On April 2, 2009, Pike announced a pause in the band's career together for the time being. After 19 years, he stated they felt it was time to take a rest and move on to new projects.Stereolab's music combines a droning rock sound with lounge lounge music instrumentals, overlaid with singsong female vocals and pop melodies. Their records were heavily influenced by the motorik technique of 1970s krautrock groups such as Neu! and Faust Faust (band) . Tim Gane has supported the comparison: "Neu! did minimalism and drones, but in a very pop way." Stereolab's style also incorporates easy-listening music of the 1950s and '60s. Said Joshua Klein in The Washington Post, "Years before everyone else caught on, Stereolab was referencing the 1970s German bands Can Can (band) and Neu!, the Mexican lounge music master Esquivel Juan García Esquivel and the decidedly unhip Burt Bacharach." Gane has praised these older instruments for their superior controllability: "We use the older effects because they're more direct, more extreme, and they're more like plasticine: you can shape them into loads of things." Funk Funk music , jazz, and Brazilian music were inspirations, and the sound of minimalist minimalist music composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich can be found on 1999's Cobra and Phases Group ....

Lætitia Sadier's bilingual French and English vocals have been a part of Stereolab since the beginning.

In interviews, Gane and Sadier have discussed their musical philosophy. According to Gane "to be unique was more important than to be good." On the subject of being too obscure, he said in a 1996 interview that "maybe the area where we're on dodgy ground, is this idea that you need great knowledge [of] esoteric music to understand what we're doing." In the same interview Sadier responds to Gane, saying that she "think[s] we have achieved a music that will make sense to a lot of people whether they know about Steve Reich or not." and for Sadier, "you trust that there is more and that it can be done more interesting."


On stage

Stereolab toured regularly to support their album releases. The band were not afraid to turn up the volume in concert. In a 1996 The Washington Post gig review, Mark Jenkins wrote that Stereolab started out favoring an "easy-listening syncopation", but eventually reverted to a "messier, more urgent sound" characteristic of its earlier performances. In another review Jenkins said that the band's live songs "frequently veer[ed] into more cacophonous, guitar-dominated territory", in contrast to lighter albums like Cobra and Phases Group .... In the Minneapolis Star Tribune Jon Bream compared the band's live sound to feedback-driven rock bands like the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine My Bloody Valentine (band) . However, several critics have said that Stereolab lacked stage presence, arguing that Sadier's vocal delivery was too subdued and that the band tended to play instead of perform its music. Regarding being onstage, Gane has said that "I don't like to be the center of attention ... I just get into the music and am not really aware of the people there. That's my way of getting through it."Stereolab's music is politically and philosophically charged. Lætitia Sadier, who wrote the group's lyrics, has reportedly been inspired by her anger at the Iraq War.

Critics have seen Marxist Marxism allusions in the band's lyrics, and several have gone so far as to call the band itself Marxist. "Ping Pong", a single included on Mars Audiac Quintet (1994), has been put forward as evidence. In the song, Sadier sings "about capitalism's cruel cycles of slump and recovery" with lyrics that constitute "a plainspoken explanation of one of the central tenets of Marxian economic analysis" (said critics Simon Reynolds and Stewart Mason, respectively). Another recurring theme among Stereolab titles is references to vintage electronic musical instruments ("Farfisa", "Motoroller [sic] Scalatron", "Jenny Ondioline") and hi-fi terminology ("Wow And Flutter", Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements).Stereolab have been called "one of the most influential alternative bands of the '90s," Simon Reynolds commented in Rolling Stone that the group's earlier records form "an endlessly seductive body of work that sounds always the same, always different." The band's 1996 album Emperor Tomato Ketchup, their "high-water mark" according to critic Joshua Klein, In The Guardian, Dave Simpson stated: "With their borrowings from early, obscure Kraftwerk and hip obtuse sources, [Stereolab] sound like a band of rock critics rather than musicians." Lætitia Sadier's vocals were criticized by author Stuart Shea for often being "indecipherable."

A variety of artists—musical and otherwise—have collaborated with Stereolab. In 1995 the group teamed up with sculptor Charles Long for an interactive art show in New York City, for which Long provided the exhibits and Stereolab the music. In the 1990s Stereolab and veteran industrial band Nurse With Wound released two limited-edition records together; both contained Nurse With Wound remixes of original tracks provided by Stereolab.

Stylistically, music journalist J. D. Considine credits the band for anticipating and driving the late 1990s revival of vintage analog instruments among indie rock bands. Indie rock band Pavement Pavement (band) (who also toured with Stereolab) acknowledged the group's sound on their song "Half A Canyon." Stereolab alumni have also founded bands of their own. Guitarist Sean O'Hagan went on to form the The High Llamas, while keyboardist Katharine Gifford created Snowpony with a former member of My Bloody Valentine My Bloody Valentine (band) . Sadier herself has released three albums with her four-piece side-project Monade, whose sound Mark Jenkins called a "little more Parisian" than Stereolab's.

Despite earning critical acclaim and a sizable fanbase, commercial success eluded the group. Early in their career, their 1993 EP Jenny Ondioline entered the UK Singles Chart, but financial issues prevented the band from printing enough records to satisfy demand. When Elektra Records was closed down by Warner Bros. Records in 2004, Stereolab was dropped along with many other artists, reportedly because of poor sales. Since then, Stereolab's self-owned label Duophonic Duophonic Records has inked a worldwide distribution deal with independent label Too Pure. Through Duophonic the band both licenses their music and releases it directly (depending on geographic market). According to Tim Gane, "... we license our recordings and just give them to people, then we don't have to ask for permission if we want to use it. We just want to be in control of our own music."
 

 

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