Since the dawn of music downloading and the newfound importance of the song over the album, an interesting trend has emerged. While many have decried the death of the album, artists compiling their singles and rarities on to one and two disc collections have, be it intentional or otherwise, assembled unlikely coherent albums out of their odds `n’ sods. Les Savy Fav and Jens Lekman have already done so to stunning results, surprising everyone by making their respective best albums out of scattered elements. A similar case could be made for Stereolab on their new set, Fab Four Suture. No strangers to singles, b-sides and the collecting of, Stereolab have no fewer than four singles collections to their name at this point, just to prove how extensive a catalog they have, not even counting their full-length albums. Still, Fab Four Suture is just different enough in concept that it could conceivably be considered its own album.
The idea goes like this: Stereolab recorded 12 songs, two of each to be released on their own seven-inch, therefore totaling six separate singles. Three singles were released six months ago, while the other three share the same release date as Suture, which collects all 12 songs in a different order. Basically, the band recorded an album, but fragmented it before putting out the CD, making its existence confusing and unconventional, but no less cohesive.
The premier seven-inch, “Kybernetica Babicka,” finds its two parts split, bookending the album with their looped psychedelic fanfare. In this form, the two songs (or one song split in half) make more sense, as they don’t make for a typical single, neither one of them being a proper “pop” song, relying on repetition rather than structured verses or choruses, or even lyrics. “Interlock,” previously released on one of the band’s singles from last fall, still remains a highlight, its trippy disco-funk adding a fun and danceable contrast to the group’s trademark sunny Kraut-pop. Slower in pace but no less melodically pleasing are “Eye of the Volcano,” with its vibrant horns, and “Plastic Mile,” a harmonic carnival with Laetitia Sadier’s vocals layered quite nicely.
The band always stuns when attempting a fairly straightforward pop song like “Visionary Road Maps,” as even when they play it straight, it’s still pretty weird by mainstream standards. This track succeeds in being a catchy, almost spy-theme sounding pop song, with a tempo shift halfway through its course. “Vodiak,” meanwhile, is bouncy and boppy and electro-tastic, yet “Whisper Pitch,” which follows, is yet another nugget of brilliance. Its marriage of windy basslines and beautiful, cascading guitar leads is melodically sublime. After literally hundreds of songs, it’s a wonder they’re still able to sound so inventive.
Stereolab has always been a band that preferred structure (including their oft-spoken about Marxist politics), and it’s no surprise that they have put together a tight work of art on Fab Four Suture. With so much debate over the future of music, I would like to direct everyone toward Stereolab and offer them as an example that the album isn’t actually dead, but has, with the technology, evolved into something new.
Broadcast – Work and Non-Work
Stereolab – Margerine Eclipse
Jim O’Rourke – Eureka
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.