MUSIC REVIEWS: Stereolab and Junk Science
With 17 years and 11 albums to date, Stereolab has created their own sound, weaving tropicalia, French chanson, electronica, drum n’ bass, and Italian soundtracks together into a bubbly, whimsical sound that is all their own. There is something so innate about this sound that it’s instantaneously recognizable, like Bob Dylan’s voice or Betsey Johnson’s fashion.
Their latest release, Chemical Chords, is a more condensed and sleeker side of Stereolab. It’s purposefully shorter, louder, and faster, which is what lead songwriter Tim Gane intended to create, and it sounds natural that way. Whereas previous albums are more of a soundscape and lack singable melodies, this one doesn’t. I found myself whistling the first track, “Neon Beanbag” while walking my dog.
Sean O’Hagen’s carefully and lovingly tended strings and brass really add an extra level of goodness to the songs on this album. Stereolab’s, sound is there and doesn’t vary too much, but the album is more polished and definitely a great soundtrack for the end of summer.
Add DJ Snafu’s lo-fi jazzy samples over bass-heavy “boom bap” beats with Emcee Baje One’s playfully defiant lyrics, and you’ll get a wonderful concoction known as Gran’ Dad’s Nerve Tonic. Junk Science, the Brooklyn-based hip-hop duo, doesn’t suggest that their sophomore album promotes excessive drinking. As Baje One explains on their myspace page, “It’s not a record about alcohol or alcoholism per se, as much as the record itself is the drink that me and Snafu needed and couldn’t find anywhere on the shelves.” The search for good music is a common dilemma for true hip hop heads and in most cases, underground hip hop has been their antidote of choice. However, songs like “Do It Easy” and “Glass House (featuring MC K~Swift & Cavalier)” suggest otherwise. With an infectious sample hook from “My Melody,” by Eric B. & Rakim, “Do It Easy” makes their everyday financial stresses (bounced checks and lack of health insurance) comical, while “Glass House” best shows their ambivalence to being underground: “I try to beep out business but I wind up confused/Between my Communist views and taste for fly shoes.” Junk Science is not the “explosive combination” that they claim to be on “Pop Rocks,” but their different approaches throughout nicely complement one another.