Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Noise Of Carpet

The gloriously expanded sound world of popular music that opened up in the 1980s and has continued to this very day is both an opportunity and a restriction for contemporary musicians.

To make music that sounds fresh today when so much ground has already been covered requires a far more developed sense of musicality than was necessary in the past. Previously, ploughing a genre furrow was enough - the style itself was fresh enough to sustain interest. That's no longer the case. To succeed today requires different skills; the ability to pull the essence out of well-worn forms and weave a new fabric. This is a tough challenge. Personally, I believe this has pushed the sheer artistry of the best new pop music to even higher levels than we've seen before. Sadly I don't think this is recognized, particularly by members of my generation (late 50's baby-boom) many of whom remain solidly wedded to the past.

All of which is a preamble to an appreciation of one of my favorite late 20th century bands, Stereolab.

In many ways Stereolab's music echoes that of Adam Faith recorded 35 years earlier - it is pop music, solidly constructed and seemingly unchallenging, but nonetheless individual and subversive in its own way. Rooting their sound in the German progressive bands of the 1970s such a Can, with elements of the British Canterbury art rock scene (Soft Machine in particular) thrown in for good measure, Stereolab nonetheless almost completely eshew the aesthetic of that period. Instead a solidly 1960s lounge groove is embraced, complete with singsong vocals and muzak-derived harmonies. However these are totally transformed by the repetitive, minimalist, treatment that they get. The result is unique. Rarely is a band more distinctly defined by its sound. I love it.

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