Artist: Stereolab                                   Release Date: August 1993
Label: Elektra Records                          Running time: 62m 11s

Duncan Browne - Bass, Guitar, Voices
Tim Gane - Organ, Guitar, Bongos, Tambourine, Moog Synthesizer
Mary Hansen+ - Guitar, Tambourine, Vocals
Sean O'Hagan - Organ, Guitar, Farfisa Organ
Andy Ramsay - Organ, Bouzouki, Percussion
Laetitia Sadier - Organ, Guitar, Tambourine, Vocals, Moog Synthesizer
Duncan Brown - Bass, Guitar (Electric), Speech/Speaker/Speaking Part
Arranged, Engineered & Produced by Stereolab and Philip Adrian Wright 1
All songs Sadier/Gane ©1993 Incomplete Music Inc.
Musical Context :

      First, to Paris: summer of 1988, Seaya Sadier met British guitarist- songwriter Tim Gane, who was touring with his band, McCarthy.2 All Can & Faust discussions between the two are purely speculation, but regardless the couple quickly put musical interests second and just plain fell in love (marrying a few years later). For now though, however, they quit France and head back across the Channel. Significantly though, once back in Barking, Gane used some translated poems by Laetitia (like Should The Bible Be Banned?) for his band's final album, Banking, Violence and the Inner Life Today. By the late 80s, however, the appetite for political post-punk in and around London had pretty much been exhausted.
      So the new couple re-examined their mutual musical enthusiasms and by 1991 they formed Stereolab. They took the name from a 1950s high fidelity record outfit specializing in vinyl recordings designed to “exploit the sonic capabilities of multi-channel stereophonic sound”. The briefest glance at the album cover for Transient... will reveal the kitschy upshot of this aesthetic. They began by releasing their first singles (Super-electric, The Way Will Be Opening, etc.) on their own label, Duophonic,by mail order. These initial 45s were eventually compiled into Switched On, which was released by the Too Pure label in 1992. Shortly thereafter they were signed to Elektra Records and released Transient. Sadier made a point of mentioning the album "was a nightmare to record. Even talking about it brings a pain to my stomach.”
      While the early singles (collected on Switched On) as well as 'The Groop played Space Age Bachelor Pad Music' ep are surely outstanding, and the 1992 Peng! is a rewarding break out first LP (with The Seeming and The Meaning being the coolest condensation of post-structuralism I’ve ever come across in a pop song), it must be said none of Stereolab’s recordings in the end achieve the overarching dizziness and regenative freshness of Transient. Emperor Tomato Ketchup may have secured their US audience, especially after the summer festival tours of 1995, but even now - with their on-going collaboration with members of Mouse On Mars and Tortoise et al. (first on the 20 min. Dyed track on Millions Now Living Will Never Die, as well as their most recent Sound-dust) - they are still trying to find their way back to the originality of this record.

What’s it sound like though?

      While other folks were still flogging the horses of baggy back in the UK and britpop lads like Blur, Oasis, etc. were sticking it to most of their contemporaries - Stereolab emerged as a much smarter reason to pick up imports. Their use of dated keyboards, especially old farfisa and moog organs, singlehandedly seemed to bring these sounds back in vogue for a while - and this in turn spiraled quickly out of control as suddenly a whole slew of college kids scampered for Neu! and Can records (good) as well as Esquival and Serge Gainsbourg (gash) ~ all seeming to grow strangely nostalgic for a sound most of their parents couldn’t even remember. That’s okay though - can’t pin the whole thing on ‘the groop’. But on this recording in particular, the spooky tone of vintage gear was refined and distorted with all manner of alchemical electronic studio effects ~ they were recording and hanging out with the members of Nurse With Wound (of all people) at the time if that explains anything.
      "That roughed-up organ, put through an amp and distorted -- I don't know why, but I'm always attracted to that kind of sound," Gane said. "I don't like things too clean. I like a bit of spillage." Sadier replied, adding “we kind of stumbled on it. We happened to find this Farfisa organ, a great big plastic thing from the '70s, in a thrift shop. This incredible, heavy, compressed and loaded sound was like a huge shaver -- Whaaah! That's just something you can't premeditate." You get the idea. It’s a phenomenal album.

Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?

      Switched On would be vital if you like the loopy drones and organ sounds on this record; also take a stab at Neu!’s first released which was just re-issued by Astralwerks (hearing the first track, Hallogallo, you'll think you're listening to Stereolab out-takes). Can’s Future Days album and Faust IV are two pivotal influences as well if you want to check out the roots of the band’s sound. Sterolab also did a one-off ep with the electronic outfit, UI, in 1998 which covered Brian Eno and Sun Ra that worked out really well. Sadier’s vocals are a dead ringer for the harmonics Eno was going for on Before and After Science but until you hear the two songs back to back you’d probably never associate the two. Oh, and there was a US band called Flowchart whose first record, Multi-Personality Tabletop Vacation, was so 'similar sounding' they got calls from Elektra lawyers - listen to it if you come across it, if just for a laugh.
The Songs:
1. Tone Burst (Gane/Sadier) - 5:35       ~ A rollicking, almost Ray Manzarek sounding organ paves the way for a sultry Gallic ballad, “le son profond de ta voix, tel un rayon vibrant ouvrira mon coeur.” ~
2. Our Trinitone Blast - 3:47       ~ Tough as nails, super cool discordant manifesto of self-determination,what I decide to be is what I am, maybe what punk would have sounded like if it had come from 1960s Paris instead of 70s London ~
3. Pack Yr Romantic Mind - 5:06       ~ A smoky, Gilberto-esque rumination, in full Parisian accentuation, looping on & on & on along waves of crunching guitar and various bleeps ~
4. I'm Going Out of My Way - 3:25       ~ An all-out crash of organs to a Go-go beat which wouldn’t have been out of place in the closing bubble sequence of The Party - “the ebb and flow de ma paresse / to compose, decompose, and recompose” ~
5. Golden Ball - 6:52       ~ A ringing, droning track of distorted guitar and organ, while Sadier murmurs through an off-kilter Nico voice “like falling two in half / from visible to invisible” , with actual skips and scratches sampled in, sounding a bit like a 45" might being played driving on a rocky road (until the last minute & a half when the pace of the guitar & drums goes an impossible double time) ending in one big skittering vinyl-gouging crash ~
6. Pause - 5:23       ~ A slow, jangly three minute serenade “Déépasser les idéées, les mots / rechercher les amours / rechercher les amours / la vie perdue” which breaks off into an extended spoken-word translation replete with looped sonics that in turn devolves into a foreshadow of the next track... ~
7. Jenny Ondioline - 18:08       ~ Alone worth the price of the record: this is an organ-driven F# opus hammered into your skull for 18 minutes while the beat drives relentlessly and the vocals circle ever higher into a counter melodic spiral, all serving to bury an extended political dialectic on the creative tensions between various economic systems, complete with cooing chorus, hand clapping, tambourine rattling - which seems to end at just over 7min, then resuscitates itself and keeps going, “Where is the lift, the hope, and the struggle?” , for another five minutes, only to implode again into a cloudy, spinning haze of distorted farfisa, and then emerge again on the other side of the 16 minute mark with a pulsing, metronomic mesmerism. ~
8. Analogue Rock - 4:13       ~ A masterwork of the slow build, with rattling guitar sputter backed by more atonal loops & dives, piling into a blasting denouement : “All good things to come, All good things to come, Will come, Welcome, All good things to come, Will come, Welcome, See you on battlefield, When we go through the mill.” ~
9. Crest - 6:04       ~ Another fave, top notch moog-a-thon - “If there's been a way to build it, There'll be a way to destroy it, Things are not all that out of control” with oblique anarchic insinuations riding jet-powered organ chords, riveting bass and sing-song backups : so hypnotic I almost passed out with one head in the speaker-cone hearing it live.3 ~
10. Lock-Groove Lullaby - 3:38       ~ We do miss, and will keeping missing... ~

1 Wright’s worked on several of the Lab’s records, and is himself a survivor of 1970s Brit-pop, being a former member of Paper Lace, which elder britnoders may recall as being responsible for the Billy, Don’t Be A Hero which won the ITV song prize in 1974. That's a little obscure though, so we'll move along to his next project, playing synths for Human League (that bit of pop music minutae courtesy of Ashley_Pomeroy).
2 With song titles like The Home Secretary Briefs The Forces of Law and Order, The Procession of Popular Capitalism, The International Narcotics Traffic, New Left Review #2 and The Drinking Song of the Merchant Bankers, you can likely deduce from whence the bands political leanings emerge.
3 Halifax Pop Explosion, NS, Brunswick Hall (Sept. 29, 1994): owing to the geographic isolation of my seaside burgh hometown, this concert was actually the first I ever saw of a band I really liked, and one from overseas, no less (kinda pathetic to be almost twenty years old, and the best band you've seen live? Platinum Blonde). Tickets for the venue were nicely set at $12 (about 5£, or $8 US) - though the place itself was essentially a glorified bingo hall. At the time, Halifax was without an indie music club (the previous one had gone belly up owing to Hell’s Angels involvement). The dreary basement space had chipped linoleum tiled floors, exposed pipes and wiring, no windows, folding tables and a make-shift bar. Though the capacity of the place was about 500 max., attendance was maybe 200 tops. After all, this was still pre-Lollapolooza & the only full-length releases then available (in Canada, anyway) were Transient... and the Switched On compilation (both pricey imports from the awful, monopolistic Cargo distributor). In other words, not many people knew or cared much that they were in town. Laetitia shared a cigarette out front with a friend just before their set, as no one there knew who she was anyway. My pal Doug bought Tim from the band a beer, just because he was sitting next to us, waiting out the openers. Simultaneously proud of, yet embarrassed for our small-town locale, I watched the band finally make their way on stage to set up. The college radio kids (DJ’s, the lot, from the local community radio station) swooned. Tattered cardigans and converse all over the tiny 10' x 10' stage front. Katharine Gifford, the organist for the band for the tour (and who went on to form Snowpony with former members of Moonshake & MBV), looked about ready to pass out over her farfisa halfway through the opening song. But the show was a jaw-dropper : since then I’ve been lucky enough to seen plenty of other great shows ~ but none of them hit the two hour, transcendentally precise, chordal assault that Stereolab dropped on us that night. They played a 20 min. version of 'Contact' followed up by the phenomenal 8 min. dirge Surrealchemist ~ I’m pretty sure it nearly fried the substandard wiring in the place.
4Village Voice (3/1/94, p.5) - Ranked #24 in the Village Voice's 1993 Critics Poll; Melody Maker (1/1/94, p.76) - Ranked #15 on ‘Albums Of The Year' for ‘93; and Spin said of the record "the groop moves from Hanna Barbera spaceland straight to a mandate to wreak aural havoc."
+ MTV News reported today that Mary Hansen was killed in Central London on Monday afternoon after being struck by a lorry while riding her bicycle. She will be returned to her native Maryborough, near Brisbane, Australia for burial. Hansen was 36. Police are still investigating the circumstances of the accident. Light a candle, as the bell rings / one more angel, too soon with wings...

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