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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Sub Pop
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

July 19, 2005
It must be natural for a record collector to greet a band of Stereolab's prolificacy with at least a degree of ambivalence. The London-based group (or self-proclaimed 'groop') has been churning out release-after-release since the early 1990s, padding their catalog as if their individual lives depended on it. Although the band's breakneck release schedule may have represented a challenge to some fans, to others the daunting prospect of completing the expansive Stereolab collection would have been inconceivable.

The modern era has, however, given birth to an abundance of exciting new possibilities. On one hand, the Internet's file-sharing capabilities have granted music, as an intangible form of intellectual property, virtually limitless accessibility. On the other, the industry needs to sell records, and has thus sought to create a market for compilations that contain rarities, previously unreleased songs, promotional videos and so on. The only catch, due to the intense and diverse competition it now faces, not only from other corners of the industry but also from the newly-empowered consumer, is that these singles and rarities compilations must represent a solid value before even the most stalwart fan will fork over the money.

Enter Stereolab's Oscillations From the Anti-Sun, a four-disc box-set comprised of three audio CDs and one DVD containing singles, rarities, lost tracks, videos and, on the DVD, a handful of live sessions that seeks to apply the finishing touches to what the Switched On series initially embarked on: 35 tracks (43 if you count the DVD tracks) for under $25 (although it'll cost you fifteen of your hard-earned British sterling pounds). Clearly Oscillations From the Anti-Sun is good value for money without even considering how proficient, consistent and ear-catchingly dreamy Stereolab are, and indeed have been for the last decade or so. Many releases of this ilk are hit-and-miss at best, and mark a lazy last-ditch effort by band and label to cash in on the loyalty of the remaining fanbase, while buyer pursuit is often driven by completist impulses, or perhaps merely by sheer intrigue.

Fortunately, Oscillations flows and bounces inter-era seamlessly. It is virtually devoid of creative or integral lapses, and thus bares Stereolab's gift of timeless consistency. And consistency, rather than uniformity, is the operative word. Oscillations displays evidence of vast progression - from the Kraut-inspired rock of the early nineties to the refined, breezy summer pop of recent ventures, captured exclusively on Sound Dust and Margarine Eclipse. Granted, avid Stereolab fans will be more-than-familiar with many songs on offer - "Miss Modular," "Cybele's Reverie," "The Free Design" and "Ping Pong" could be considered the band's signature tunes - however, inclusion of the singles marks the avoidance of isolation from fans-to-be, potentially acting as a gateway to their discography and the more exclusive tracks on offer on Oscillations, which include rare, alternate versions of "Ping Pong" and "Jenny Ondioline" and a live version of "Transona Five."

Few bands would execute chronological disorder as effectively as Stereolab. Their songwriting is varied, flowing and, ever since the days of Emperor Tomato Ketchup, has maintained a height of expertise. Oscillations therefore skips from year-to-year and from line-up-to-line-up with very few tracks appearing distinctly incongruous. "Fruition," "Golden Ball" and "The Noise of Carpet" illustrate a youthful Stereolab, which, although slightly erratic, is endearing to behold in the given context. They are fuzzy, full of energy, and act as an excellent inauguration to the maturity that allowed Stereolab to come into their own. "Fluorescences" and "Cybele's Reverie" reveal the band's subtle affairs, the former with free jazz and the latter with futuristic orchestral pop. They accommodate a wide range of sounds, both organic and synthetic, and demonstrate the multi-instrumentalism that came to be the band's forte, both in terms of songwriting and performing.

Laetitia Sadier's vocals are, as ever, delightful. She "coos," "doos" and "ahhs" note-perfectly in English and French, exhibiting Stereolab's eccentric capabilities, fusing intellectualism with refined elegance. The late Mary Hansen provides sporadic vocal backing that, particularly in the case of "Cybele's Reverie," playfully intertwines with Sadier while futuristic loops and synth blips lace the guitars, keys and horns. Stereolab's panoramic sound develops without sounding too cluttered, despite its wide reachings and rich layers, and thus Oscillations evolves as a deceptively light listen from beginning to end.

The DVD contains promo videos for the singles, as well as television performances of "French Disko" on The Word and "Cybele's Reverie" and "Les Yper Sound" on Later with Jools Holland. Although the live features unveil Stereolab as a fairly static live act, their confidence supplements this no end, and the DVD features prove to be a captivating watch.

Although much of Oscillations' beauty gently lies on its surface, it in truth runs far deeper, residing in its versatility. It will appeal as equally to the seasoned Stereolab nerd as a neatly packaged collection of career peaks and defining moments, as it will to the recent convert as a point of access. There will undoubtedly be disappointed fans who had hoped for a collection that would celebrate the perhaps forgotten, coarser material to greater lengths, but given their recent accomplishments it is evident that Stereolab are indeed on top of their game, and that any additions to such an impressive portfolio will bear as much excitement as those that granted them the commendation they have since drawn, and deserve.

SEE ALSO: www.toopure.com
SEE ALSO: www.stereolab.co.uk

--
Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other articles by Mike Wright.

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