Original post-rock hep-cats pass their “sell-by” date
It now seems somewhat reductive/ridiculous to have so sincerely called anything “post-rock” (hell, “post-anything”). But back in 1990—when London underground collective Stereolab first cohered around the tag-team songwriting/romantic partnership of Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier—this term actually meant something, with the group’s Moog-driven synth attack squarely competing for attention with the shaggier grunge and shoegaze movements. Sixteen years and 10 albums beyond the group’s oddball 1992 debut, Peng!, the same core elements that initially characterized Stereolab—an unrequited love of Krautrock, lounge, cheesy ’60s pop and “space age bachelor pad music,” combined with lyrics embracing Marxist politics and Situationist themes—are still very much present in its output. But, while comforting, this sound is not nearly the revelation it once seemed. Part of this fatigue is due to the the band’s undeniable influence—countless groups, from Pavement to Blur to the entire Japanese Shibuya-kei pop community, owe a debt to Stereolab’s pioneering use of non-rock sonic elements. But on Chemical Chords, there’s nothing in the 14 pleasant-sounding tracks that we haven’t heard them sing about—in breathy, jazz-cat-inflected French—several dozen times before.