Shaving Peaches

Life is short, nasty and brutish. The question is whether life is short enough to suffer two hours of rare and unreleased tracks by Stereolab....

LIFE IS SHORT, NASTY AND BRUTISH. THE QUESTION IS whether life is short enough to suffer two hours of rare and unreleased tracks by Stereolab.

If their motorik rhythms, Krautrock meanderings and Velvet Underground dissonances are difficult enough in normal releases, then the mind can only boggle at the thought of what Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier and their cohorts want to keep in limited public view. Surprise, then, that the third in the ‘Switched On’ series of compilations shows our heroes to have a wider palette and broader canvas than at first suspected.

A suspension of disbelief is required for the first six tracks, seeing as they were recorded for an exhibition of the artist Charles Long’s sculptures in New York City and were meant to be heard in headphones while studying the work. Nevertheless, ‘Pop Quiz’ remains a deceptively tuneful examination of patriotism, while ‘The Brush Descends The Length’ is lavished with gorgeous orchestral strings to sweet and sickening effect.

The remaining tracks are culled from seven-inch singles given away on tour, US promo CDs, album outtakes and remixes, but are still a more restless version of Stereolab than usual. The lyrically claustrophobic but musically airy ‘One Small Step’ describes the aftermath of a bombing raid that turns out to be a false alarm, and their analysis of the effects of capitalism still has the same red-beret fervour of the past: ‘Seeperbold’ suggests there are many ways to interpret the world, while ‘Check And Double Check’ urges people to at least try to change the current situation.

It’s not all furrowed brows and charged laments for Stereolab, though. ‘One Note Samba/Surfboard’ features jazz flautist Herbie Mann and has the distinction of being the first Latinate samba song that is deconstructed as it goes on.

A good, arty joke, that. And one that’s almost as good as the strange tones, weird drum machines and [I]”baaa baaa baaa baaa”[/I] harmonies that save Stereolab’s output from having all the Brio, swing and allure of a PhD thesis on electromagnetic waves.