Essay: Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup

“There is no sense in being interested in an ill person/Or unwell a society if one cannot believe their readiness/And the capacity for proper recovery”

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  1. “Metronomic Underground” – 7:54
  2. “Cybele’s Reverie” – 4:42
  3. “Percolator” – 3:47
  4. “Les Yper-Sound” – 4:05
  5. “Spark Plug” – 2:29
  6. “OLV 26” – 5:42
  7. “The Noise of Carpet” – 3:05
  8. “Tomorrow Is Already Here” – 4:56
  9. “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” – 4:37
  10. “Monstre sacre” – 3:44
  11. “Motoroller Scalatron” – 3:48
  12. “Slow Fast Hazel” – 3:53
  13. “Anonymous Collective” – 4:32

Stereolab are a musical anomaly. They are more of an amalgamation of different genre, never united under one banner for long. One moment, they are a Krautrock band, another, they make a hip hop track and the next, they revert back to Velvet Underground -style funk. It’s a formula that can very easily end up as a directionless mess, and has no business working as well as it does on Stereolab’s 1996 album Emperor Tomato Ketchup. What holds the smorgasbord of ideas together is some first-class production, assisted by Tortoise’s John McEntire. The somewhat unique production style allowed incredibly textured, multilayered sounds among an array of different channels (including vocal harmonies, strings and electronica), resulting in a crystal clear-sound where no detail is lost.

At the head of the project are the seductive vocals of Lætitia Sadier, who sings in both English and her native French and really helps to give the band a recognisable identity. At the beginning of the 1990s, Stereolab were beginning to move away from rock and experiment more with pop-centric sounds, while still incorporating their lost list of diverse stylistic influences. Emperor Tomato Ketchup was a critical success on release, and was the band’s best shot at breaking into the mainstream. Sadly, they were to remain an underground sensation for a long time, although the album did see a lot of airplay on campus radio stations. Today, they are deservedly more recognised in the music world.

Sadier, and by extension Stereolab themselves, have always written songs with famously politically and philosophically charged lyrics.

“Basically, I want to change the world. I want to make people think about how they live every day, shake them a bit.” – Lætitia Sadier

1994’s single “Ping Pong” created quite a buzz for its political lyrics, which some critics believed espoused a Marxist belief system. On Ketchup, these ideas still come into play, but less prominently. The lyrics written in French wouldn’t translate as they were originally intended, so I’ll talk about those in English. On the track “Tomorrow Is Already Here”, Sadier laments about the corruption and lust for power in the political institution, which she sees had noble beginnings in serving its people: “Originally this set up was to serve society/Now the roles have been reversed that want society/To serve the institutions.” Some cuts go down a far more poetic and philosophical route, like on “The Noise of Carpet”, where she discusses ideas such as “fashionable cynicism” in an unknown character who seems to have become disillusioned with the world at the same time as battling some sort of mental illness. The character is built up as having a defeatist outlook on life. with the narrator presumably acting as someone who knows the character closely, as they encourage the pessimist to have a more positive attitude: “This world will give you anything/As long as you will want to.”

In many ways, Stereolab were pioneers, yet simultaneously breathing new life into forgotten or stale genres and making them contemporary again. And they were at the top of their game doing so.

New Music: Björk, Japanese Breakfast, Diplo, Shabazz Palaces, Hater

Björk – “notget”

Talented musician and wardrobe oddity Björk has just come through with an equally eccentric music video for “notget,” from her 2015 album Vulnicura, which intimately explored the end of her relationship with then-boyfriend Matthew Barney, and the subsequent healing process that came after. It’s good to know that she’s still active in the music world.


Diplo, Rich Chigga, Young Thug & Rich the Kid – “Bankroll”

A star-studded collaboration in the trap rap world was shared today in the form of Diplo, Rich Chigga, Young Thug and Rich the Kid’s shot at banger of the year: “Bankroll.” An interesting story about this track is that it was originally meant to feature Justin Beiber, but according to Thomas Wesley Pentz, he had to do away with that version of the single. “Other artists made Soundcloud take down the Justin Beiber version because they had exclusives with him.” A response to this was to replace Bieber with trap legend Rich Chigga, and make the original version free for download.


Japanese Breakfast – “Boyish”

“Boyish”, from New-York based Korean artist Japanese Breakfast‘s forthcoming LP entitled Soft Sounds From Another Planet, is a lush and tranquil science-fiction ballad that really took me by surprise with how much I enjoyed it. You can pre-order the new album here.


Shabazz Palaces – “Julian’s Dream (ode to a bad) [feat. The Shogun Shot]”

Prolific experimental hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces have shared the second single from their next releases. They ambitiously plan to release two albums simultaneously: They are Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines & Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star. You can listen to the first single, “Since C.A.Y.A.” here.


Hater – “Coming Down”

This is a new bonus track from the Japanese-only release of Swedish indie pop group Hater’s latest LP You Tried.

Illa J drops a music video for his upcoming album’s title track: “Home”

Taking a bold new career direction, the brother of J Dilla, Illa J has put aside his hip hop roots to adopt a classic soul sound. Singing in a harmonic falsetto style, the wholesome video for “Home” illustrates Illa’s love for his home town and the people that make it come to life. The visuals are oozing with vibrancy and history, and it’s immediately apparent that the cinematic choices were a deep and deliberate choice.

Illa J aims to release the record Home on June 30th.

You can hear the first single, “Sam Cook”, here:

Review: Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

The Boston trio have been going from strength to strength recently, and have just dropped this grand stoner rock opus. Metal fans, rejoice.

 

Capture★★★★★

I’ve always been a sucker for grand ten-minute metal opuses – I like the sense of scale that the heavy instrumentation naturally brings, it shows the band’s ability to construct an interesting and engaging composition for an extended period of time, and it allows the performers to really show off their musical prowess.

Elder has been going from strength to strength in recent years, releasing solid albums one after the other since their self-titled debut in 2008. While their style isn’t exactly full-blooded metal per se, it still features blackened elements of stoner rock and that sense of scale I love so well.

With their latest album, Reflections of a Floating World, it’s immediately apparent how the band has refined their sound into a fine art. The vocals are extremely sparse on Reflections, only appearing once or twice per track, and even then they’re only popping their proverbial heads in. The meat of this album is in the way each distinct musical movement flowing effortlessly into the next in some of the most enjoyable and crisp heavy instrumentation I’ve ever heard. Metal doesn’t have the same kind of budget that other genres are free to play around with, which means that sometimes the instruments can be lost in the louder sections, turning into an indiscernible wall of sound. On this record, however, this effect never happens, perhaps due to it being a softer, brighter approach to the genre. To assist, the band welcomed session musician Mike Samos to add additional layers of guitar and keys, fitting in like he was part of the original band’s lineup.

The first track, “Sanctuary”, opens with an extended warm-up that sets the tone for the record well, touring around the themes that will be touched and expanded upon later; quiet, ethereal breaks to roaring, powerful crescendos, all executed with understated confidence and assurance. Elder doesn’t need to resort to bombast or pretence – all they need to do is let their music speak for them. In fact, the only gripe I have with this record is how some tracks, particularly “The Falling Veil” have a bit too much filler while transitioning between ideas. I don’t think there would be much difference to the track if even 30 seconds worth of this filler were cut if only to make the music just that little bit tighter. Despite this, the tracks are still very solid, and definitely warrant repeated listens in the future. Reflections of a Floating World is definitely a record that I will be returning to in the future, and I am now anxiously awaiting any future endeavours that Elder embark on.

Listen here:

Favourite Track: Staving Off Truth

Least Favourite Track: None!

 

Mogwai – “Coolverine”

Watch the video for Mogwai’s new video from their upcoming LP in September. The video, shot entirely in slow motion, features citizens of an urban setting being slowly lifted up by inexplicable forces. The band plan to go on tour later this year to coincide with the release of their upcoming album, Every Country’s Sun.