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Valley Hi!

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Stereolab: A Pop Throwback Looks Forward

Stereolab: A Pop Throwback Looks Forward

Valley Hi!

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Valley Hi!"
  • Artist: Stereolab
  • CD: Chemical Chords
  • Genre: Pop

Stereolab finds a new way to make subtly textured throwbacks to the British and French pop of the '60s. courtesy of Stereolab hide caption

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courtesy of Stereolab

No matter how hard they might try to deviate, some bands just invariably sound like themselves. It might be a fundamental consistency of sound and vision, but it can also have the effect of ironing out the highest peaks and the lowest lows, making the music easier to dismiss as songs and albums blend together.

But throughout a long career, this consistency can be freeing, as a band like Stereolab can simply craft and release the album it wants without worrying much about gaining or losing fans. Still, it does invite the question: If a group does the same thing over and over again, but does it really well, does that essentially render it critic-proof? And how does a band like Stereolab attempt to go back to the well for inspiration?

In the case of Chemical Chords, Stereolab's first full-length album in four years, co-founder Tim Gane changed his recording process. By constructing demos from looped percussion and simple vibraphone and piano tracks, Gane created layer upon layer of dense melodic and harmonic content before incorporating his band's input.

"Valley Hi!" seems to be composed "vertically," rather than using a traditional, chronological verse-chorus structure. By stacking countless melodic and rhythmic motifs to create a wash of subtle textures, the song flutters with overlapping synths, keyboards, and guitars, as well as Laetitia Sadler's dark, wispy alto singing in French. The track evokes '60s British and French pop, using intricate Baroque harmonies set to danceable beats.

Where many bands (including Stereolab in its earliest Krautrock iterations) look to noise and deconstruction as a means for experimentation, Gane and company experiment more with mood, repetition, and meticulous detail. Ultimately, while there might be a sense of sameness to its songs, the band continues to evolve by finely tuning its richly produced and orchestrated pop songs.

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This story originally ran on July 16, 2008.

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