Repetition doesn’t have to mean repeating yourself. At least, that could be one of the credos behind Stereolab’s stellar output over the past 15 years. Matched head-to-head, every album in their catalog reveals its intricacies and uniqueness. Taken as a whole, however, the entire Stereolab oeuvre fits quite snuggly in the context of any given critic’s attempt at a clever metaphor: say, a swinging ’60s lounge party at Francois Truffaut’s house, as re-imagined by Philip Glass and Kraftwerk.
With Chemical Chords, there are no efforts to call off that particular soiree, and why would you? This is Stereolab’s dimension, and though many imitators have tried, nobody does this scene any better. If anything, Chemical Chords turns up the fun, delivering shorter, punchier, more immediate nuggets than 2006’s more wandering collection, Fab Four Suture. It’s all about the way the future sounded in 1967, with equal doses of slick Motown rhythms, psychedelic organs, Beatles-like strings, and bouncing Stax horns. Guitarist/keyboardist Tim Gane still has few rivals when it comes to stirring a new brand of cool out of a barrel full of seemingly disparate influences, and singer Laetitia Sadier is still the nonchalant femme fatale who ties it all together. The band is at its best on head-bobbing numbers like “Neon Beanbag” and “The Ecstatic Static,” which manage to seem fresh while also sounding exactly like, well, Stereolab.