Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night
By: Eric Greenwood
Stereolab somehow made the leap from noodling indie-rockers to retro-avant-guardists in a matter of a few well-timed and challenging records. The progression from Transient Random Noisebursts With Announcements (the band’s first proper American release) to Cobra And Phases… is remarkable. The band has honed in on its decontsructionist view of musical styles past (french pop, jazz, and Sun Ra for the most part) and melded it perfectly with the aural pastiche it embodies today. Listening to Stereolab is truly a reality suspending experience. The music takes you to a new place that seems at once familiar and unknown.
Cobra And Phases… keeps the heavy syncopation of Dots And Loops thanks to producers John McEntire and Jim O’Rourke and splices it with a more pronounced jazz influence, but the result is just as immediate and otherworldly. Stereolab has always sounded better on headphones, and this record is no exception. It’s so busy but never sounds jumbled or half-assed. It’s easy to overlook what’s happening on a Stereolab record because the tones are innocuous and serene, but this band is pushing the envelope with every track. Few bands are this confident, cohesive and experimental without losing melody.
Laetitia Sadier’s voice is soothing and sophisticated and sometimes as mundane as a groove-locked moog line, but she can also sound jaunty and uplifting. “Fuses” digs right into the newer jazzy groundwork, while “People Do It All The Time” could have been on any of the past three Stereolab records, which isn’t a dig but a testament to the band’s consistency. “The Free Design” is catchy, repetitious and a perfect example of Stereolab’s boundless energy. The piano line that starts the song never changes but the band piles on interweaving melodies, vocal harmonic snippets, and shuffling drums. The horns balance the warmth of the keyboards- the most distinctive aspect of the new record.
This album gets better with every listen. It’s unfair to say if you’ve heard one Stereolab record you’ve heard them all. The nuances get tighter and more exciting every go round. Cobra And Phases… is another giant step forward in the band’s ongoing quest to spread out it influences while pushing the limits of its core sound.