Much of the attention surrounding this release stems from the notion that it was penned during the recording sessions for 2008?s fulsome Chemical Chords. While Stereolab has long been an incredibly consistent outfit, this couldn’t merely amount to more of the same. It couldn’t. With a hiatus announced and Laetitia Sadier’s solo career in full bloom, there was little purpose for an extraneous album which didn’t measure up to an already middling standard. It would mark the definitive valley in the Lab’s discography, a collection of remnants from what felt like scraps to begin with.
Thankfully, Not Music‘s entries were cut not because they were inferior to Chemical Chords‘ prickly pop, these vestiges were cast aside on account of their stance — the previous two albums produce a banal bounce; this one is content to glide through the cosmos at its own rhythm. This one sees a Stereolab that hasn’t glossed over its poise; a Stereolab that has aged gracefully, ready and willing to stand its ground amid the underground’s swirling whims.
Right out of the gate, it’s clear the misc-pop troupe has shaken its jitters and forgone any designs on acclimating itself to the temperamental here and now, allowing Sadier’s velvety musings to dawdle along, rather than bullying them into quicker tempos. Opener ‘Everybody’s Weird Except Me’ is a splendid balmy-afternoon stroll, ‘So Is Cardboard Clouds’ sees Sadier snaking through insistent percussion to posit her nonchalant two cents, the deliberate pace of ‘Delugeoisie’ sweeps her onto the stage of an interstellar smoke lounge, and so on.
Stereolab’s now somewhat pallid voice is dwarfed on a handful of the breezier tracks though, as the vim required to battle through fuzzy patinas and fiery romps has flagged in recent years. ‘Sun Demon’ continually capers one step ahead of its pocket, whereas ‘Pop Molecules (Molecular Pop 2)’ is comprised of a paltry fogbank guiding any hooks away from our shores where it would have once strengthened their resolve and fueled their kaleidoscopic push through.
The Lab hasn’t lost the entirety of its cool just yet, but it’s dissipating. We can feel it; we can envision steely mitts pilfering its spirit in the dead of night, slurping up the band’s few cardinal oddments left miring at the bottom of the barrel. What’s a shell of a shell? Actually – I’d prefer not to find out.
Rating: 6.4 / 10