The First Of The Microbe Hunters
By: Eric G.
Just a few months after releasing the long-awaited Cobra Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night, Stereolab churns out another EP, begging the question of whether this a response to the lukewarm reviews of Cobra Phases… or just another characteristic over-saturation of the market. The reviews of Cobra Phases… were prematurely assuming that Stereolab had run its course- a ridiculous and sweeping judgment made in haste by countless independent zines. The only real fault of the album was its length (pushing the limit of space on a compact disc). Other than that it quite effectively expanded the landscape harvested on Dots And Loops into jazzier territory.
The First Of The Microbe Hunters abandons the jazzy overtones of Cobra Phases… and returns to the band's patented obsession with earthy grooves and numbing repetition. Laetitia Sadier's vocals are impossible to tire of- her voice has that rare ability to lure you into other worlds. The music is a tad more aggressive here than on recent efforts, harking back to the days of Switched On… or even Transient Random Noisebursts. The riffs still blend a sixties aesthetic with futuristic intentions. The band can't seem to escape the grasp of Chicago luminaries on production, though. John McIntyre once again lends his heavily syncopated agenda to the mix.
"Outer Bongolia" is a jaunty instrumental that runs a sprightly riff into the ground, but all the bleats, beeps and layers of noise keep the song from being burdensome. "Intervals" sounds like an outtake from Cobra Phases… piling Sadier's vocals in double-tracked harmonies against sparse but machine-like arrangements. The guitar line drips with effects, and the piano supplies a buoyant substructure for Sadier to coo on top of. The band has reached a level of sophistication that by nature eschews complacency. Sadier sounds most ebullient when she sings in French, and "Nomus Et Phusis" is the highlight of the EP, complete with odd meter shifts and disco-seventies organ progressions.
Stereolab only gets better with age. This EP doesn't replace Cobra Phases…, regardless of its intendment, but it certainly proves that this band won't rest on its laurels.