On Second Thought
Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements






for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

It’s been ten years since Stereolab’s major-label début—Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements—was released...and man, Stereolab really filled up a decade with music. Possessing a creative work ethic on par with Woody Allen’s, Stereolab has made it a trademark to release an album—sometimes two—a year and rarely is it shoddy material. I confess to being a Johnny-Come-Lately when it comes to the band; I had various friends in the 1990s who were into them, but the little bit I heard never impressed me much; I recall catching some of the “Miss Modular” video and writing them off as a kitschy retro-act. Turns out, the only problem I had with the band was the fact that I never sat down and listened to a complete album...well, until three years ago. Stereolab is indeed an album-oriented group and once I started taking in their whole works I began diggin’ them to the point I was purchasing most of their catalogue. True: they peaked at Emperor Tomato Ketchup—arguably Dots and Loops—but their recent albums aren’t without merit. Sound Dust was their best album since Dots and Loops and it shows that the band still have a few hip tricks up their sleeves. Last year, I was very fortunate to catch one of their last shows with tragically departed Mary Hansen, who besides playing keyboards and guitar was one of the twin-voices of Stereolab. Whatever future path Sadier and Gane take with their music, I’m sure it’ll be engaging, but it will forever be missing that Hansen spark.

Throughout the 1990s, Stereolab was definitely a band on an artistic journey—one that fully launched with Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements. Perhaps not as diverse and layered as subsequent albums, Transient Random-Noise shines brightest when it comes to sheer verve. With a simple yet determined snare fill the albums bursts forth with “Tone Burst”; the Stereolab crashing in with a driving, riding, grooving bass and a hot wall of fuzzy guitars and analogue keys. Yes—this is immediately righteous music—maybe the most righteous sounding rock since Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat. In 1993 so many acts were getting their bleak wailing grunge on, but here was Stereolab rocking with subtlety and euphoria. Even though this was on Elektra, unlike Sonic-Youth when they Gooed it up on Geffen, Stereolab maintained their rawness and guerilla stylings of their indie-recordings (at least for Transient Random-Noise). I read that the album was quickly recorded and it was better for it; you don’t capture this level of excitement over months but days. Most of the album follows the rolling drone-work of “Tone Burst”, yet it carries well—never feeling too monotonous—in fact, by the time we arrive at “Crest”, it feels that things were just getting warmed up for this knock-out crunch; there’s such intense, concentrated power in “Crest”—sonic beauty—damn! Even Sonic Youth in Daydream Nation didn’t make their noise sound so tuneful. Of course, it helps having the dreamy harmonies of Sadier and Hansen. Still, don’t think this album is just one giant drone-rock affair; there’s a few curveballs along the way. “Our Trinitone Blast” is a unique song in the Stereolab catalogue—almost sounding like Siouxsie and the Banshees—a bittersweet apocalyptic gem with gnarly effects. “Pack Yr Romantic Mind” instantly hits the listener with its smooth, lullaby pop—the lovely wink and whisper in the electrical storm—and an obvious foreshadowing of their later, loungeier sound. “Pause” also performs prologue duty with its eerie organ trance and hint of electronica.

All this aide, my favorite point on the album is when Sadier’s lead vocals come in on “Tone Burst”—a little too loud—and the music drops abruptly in volume; it comes across as bad mixing, but there’s a lasting magic in the faux pas. French director, Jean-Luc Godard was a proponent of using what others would consider mistakes to create unprocessed, intoxicating and lively cinema...and Stereolab, a band not without some rebellious French blood, did likewise with Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements: their loosest, meatiest, most slapdash, most energetic recording of their career.


By: Edwin C. Faust
Published on: 2003-09-01
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