You want retro? Get a load of their equipment, from the vintage Farfisa and Vox organs to the ever-lovable Moog synthesizers. You want futurist? It's the sound of not-so-well-oiled machinery, churning and sputtering into s... more »pace age bachelor pad heaven and postindustrial hell. You want pure pop? Dig how they mine mod sounds of the '60s, from Burt Bacharach to Françoise Hardy, and pull melodies straight out of a bubblegum wrapper. You want avant garde? Check the blatant liftings from '70s krautrockers Neu! and Can, plus their appropriations of Philip Glass's disjointed wordplay and Ornette Coleman's jagged alto sax. You want meaning? These are songs loaded with optimism, progressivism, humanism, and dashes of Marxism. You want nonsense? There's plenty of "la-la-la's" to lead us into oblivion, and head vocalist Laetitia Sadier sings half the time in French. You want a groove band? Tracks like "Metronomic Underground" and "Les Yper-Sound" cast a funk trance heavier than voodoo and at least as danceable as any neo-hippie tripe. You want a band that rocks? Try "The Noise of Carpet" for its rug-burning guitar and acceleration drum whacks. Yesterday, tomorrow, now: Stereolab's the one. --Roni Sarig« less
You want retro? Get a load of their equipment, from the vintage Farfisa and Vox organs to the ever-lovable Moog synthesizers. You want futurist? It's the sound of not-so-well-oiled machinery, churning and sputtering into space age bachelor pad heaven and postindustrial hell. You want pure pop? Dig how they mine mod sounds of the '60s, from Burt Bacharach to Françoise Hardy, and pull melodies straight out of a bubblegum wrapper. You want avant garde? Check the blatant liftings from '70s krautrockers Neu! and Can, plus their appropriations of Philip Glass's disjointed wordplay and Ornette Coleman's jagged alto sax. You want meaning? These are songs loaded with optimism, progressivism, humanism, and dashes of Marxism. You want nonsense? There's plenty of "la-la-la's" to lead us into oblivion, and head vocalist Laetitia Sadier sings half the time in French. You want a groove band? Tracks like "Metronomic Underground" and "Les Yper-Sound" cast a funk trance heavier than voodoo and at least as danceable as any neo-hippie tripe. You want a band that rocks? Try "The Noise of Carpet" for its rug-burning guitar and acceleration drum whacks. Yesterday, tomorrow, now: Stereolab's the one. --Roni Sarig
Becky B. (leelacolorado) from DENVER, CO Reviewed on 4/8/2007...
freaky & fun
Odd-Timed Rhythms + Enigmatic Blend of Retro and Futurist
Samhot | Star Land | 08/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My oh my - how does one even begin to describe music like this? Complex yet accessible. Impenetrable yet engrossing. Avant-garde yet melodic and engaging. Stereolab are known for taking elements of the past and transmutating them into something fresh, futuristic and utterly indescribable. For starters, imagine hearing the Avant-funk of Can, the eerie keyboard textures of The Doors (and/or other 60s psychedelic bands), the baffling odd-timed rhythms of Gabriel-era Genesis, angelic and precious vocal harmonies that can smack of The Beach Boys, and while we're at it, how about we add in sprinkles of Chamber music, Dream pop, 20th Century classical, Jazz, Alternative rock, Baroque pop and primal amounts of synthesizer ambience floating around. And last but not least - a good dosage of catchy pop music. Throw all of these in one gigantic blender, and the result would come out to about only a teaspoonful of the enigmatic sonic beverage/shake known as Stereolab.
Just take a glance at some of the other reviews below, and you'll find countless other artists that this band seems to remind listeners of; it's a mysterious cornucopia that sounds so familiar, yet so fresh and new at the same time. The description in the above paragraph doesn't even seem to reach the half of it. This is music so vast and aurally intangible, sonically speaking, it'll probably take centuries for anyone to come up with a label in exactitude. What'll also get your head spinning is how accessible, infectious and engaging this music is, despite including musical elements that are clearly for the acquired, not to mention that you can find some ethereal, sensual female voices singing lyrics in French and English. It's a strange, enigmatic form of pop music that somehow works. Futuristic pop? Maybe.
This music is probably best listened to on headphones, or on a good stereo system, as there are layers and layers of sonic and textural complexity, which may be missed otherwise. "Metronomic Underground" and "Cybele's Reverie" are perfect examples of this. The former featuring a steady, repetitive (or more appropriate - ambient) groove reminiscent of Can (and you could swear you hear what sounds akin to Damo Suzuki's voice in the background on the chorus), while multiple synthesizer textures continually build and overlap one another until reaching an intense climax, while the latter features some understated synthesized vocal-bleeps fronted by tasty, sugar-coated female vocals sung in French. Hard to resist those sweet bilingual vocals created by Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen. "Percolater" grooves in what seems like a 5/8 rhythm, but you'll be wondering how it could be so funky, tasty and catchy, and "Les Yper-Sound" is so embarrassingly addicting (in a good way), you may just find yourself singing along to what seem like cheesy, child-like lyrics, simply because the voice(s) uttering these words are so sensual and seductive.
Elsewhere, "The Noise of Carpet" would nearly have you convinced that you were listening to Sonic Youth with those edgy guitars, while "Tomorrow Is Already Here" features an apparent 5/4 rhythm, which is catchy and infectious, and those vocals are oh-so sweet and innocent -- so much so that it hurts to listen to them at times. The lyrics are somewhat political in nature. The title track is just downright sexy, as it features the differing, but inexplicably harmonious union of Mary and Laetitia's vocals fronting a highly addictive and danceable groove. Skipping along, "Monstre Sacre" changes up the pace as a slow, Floydesque track, featuring atmospheric, sensual orchestrated sweeps, and closing out the album is "Anonymous Collective," a track that seems appropriate to play around Christmas time.
Sounds of the past, present and future indeed. Stereolab's music is just as confusing as it is accessible, and vice versa. Want to challenge your preconceptions of what pop music is? Do you have a taste for the unusual? Have a taste for painfully infectious, addicting ear candy? Start exploring the music of Stereolab."
Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Mike Newmark | Tarzana, CA United States | 12/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Stereolab got positive notice all the way back in 1992 with Peng! and the Low-Fi EP, but 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup marks the point where they transformed from hip college-radio band to pop revolutionaries. Where earlier albums featured a consistent sound and raw, crackling textures, ETK is a polished, gorgeous, and remarkably varied affair. It sets a new standard of complexity for the band (one which they have not reached since) and certainly for pop music, which is nowadays all but devoid of innovation and intelligence. Though it's not the Stereolab of 1993, it's hardly a 180 either, as they refine their techniques and add new layers instead of altogether changing their approach. And this means that Emperor Tomato Ketchup should strike a positive chord with early-Lab devotees, while sweet melodies and catchy hooks throw new listeners on the bandwagon.
This is Stereolab at their most ambitious and most realized, and they sound confident enough to try new things. From the get-go it appears they've taken a new direction entirely, opening with the head-nodding dub/hip-hop of "Metronomic Underground," but power-pop gems "Cybele's Reverie" and "The Noise of Carpet" remind listeners of the Stereolab of old (with extra doses of energy and complexity), the former employing a string section to great effect and the latter featuring Letitia Sadier's most direct vocal delivery on record. Socio-political lyrics are in full force as always, but you would never be able to tell this on sweet, playful songs like "Motoroller Scalatron." If a "centerpiece track" could be picked out, it might be the five-minute "Tomorrow is Already Here." The song begins deceptively simply, but it begins to add layers in pairs (two keyboard drones, two xylophones, two of Sadier's vocal tracks in a sort of round,) culminating in a dramatic and beautiful ending that brings together as many as eight lines of instrumentation with smooth, effortless aplomb. In a way, "Tomorrow is Already Here" is symbolic of the entire album. Stereolab have brought many elements to the table, but they have what it takes to put them all together into sweet, deceptively innocent, and mellifluous songs. Track for track, it's one of the most accomplished and satisfying albums to hit our record stores in a very long time.
Stereolab's vast musical output is full of experiments, with varying degrees of success, but Emperor Tomato Ketchup is the place where they've made everything work. It's by far their most experimental release to date, yet it's also their most easily enjoyable and one of their most accessible. Why? Maybe it's because they have a better sense of harmony and symbiosis than any of their contemporaries. Melodies pile on top of each other but the seams don't show, and the songs always feel far greater than the sum of their parts. Maybe it's because the album's experimentalism never taunts the listener. Leftfield influences abound, from dub and Krautrock to jazz and hip-hop, but Stereolab have their feet firmly planted in sweet, spacey pop. The band's many experiments don't come at the expense of sounding enjoyable or fun; they are the means to achieve a pop-oriented end, not the ends themselves. Or maybe it has to do with the precision they didn't really achieve since forming in 1991. At 13 songs in 57 minutes, ETK is relatively brief (impressive since Krautrock is notorious for epic song lengths), and a couple of listens reveal surprisingly few wasted notes. The band does indulge in some trademark noodling during "Metronomic Underground" and the tail end of "Olv 26," but these excursions are still focused, never aimless.
Whatever the reasons, Stereolab have attended to their numerous avant-garde influences and despite them (or perhaps because of them) crafted a nearly perfect pop album. Suffice to say that they have not reached the same heights in nearly 15 years of recording, and it's not too conceivable that they ever will considering the album's unrealistically high standards (though Dots And Loops came close). It's hard to say if the album's greatest accomplishment is acclimating experimental music listeners to pop music or pop listeners to experimentalism, but Emperor Tomato Ketchup brings all different sounds together into a tightly constructed, beautifully appealing whole, making it one of the most enjoyable and important albums of the 1990s, pop or otherwise. "
Nearest and dearest to my heart
Matthew E. Olken | Austin, TX United States | 04/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Before Emperor Tomato Ketchup was released, I was a big fan of Stereolab, especially of Transient Random Noise Bursts. Mars Audiac Quintet followed and I took it to be Stereolab's definitive statement; it seemed to say "We are Stereolab and we like to play droney rock, so that is what we are damn well going to do on every single song." I felt that after Mars, that was it: Stereolab had picked out their little niche in the world and they were going to stay there.Then came Emperor Tomato Ketchup...This was something new. It still had many of their trademarks - vintage synths, a mixture of the old and new, dual female vocals, french accents, marxist lyrics, very poppy, and, yes, even some droney rock - but it was a wholely different beast from any music by Stereolab or by anyone else that had come before. It was super funky, it was electronic, it had dense layers of a whole army of cool instruments. The sounds on many songs build up one on top of another until the songs almost burst with insane energy. This is their most edgy album with sonics that try to push the listener over the brink. Witness the apocalyptic guitar feedback on Metronomic Underground, the stabbing synths and strings on Cybele's Reverie, the frantically disonant sax on Percolator, the overdriven riffing on Noise of Carpet, the pounding drums on the title track, the swaggering funk of Sparkplug. Since Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab has continued to release one great album after another, but there has always been a slight sense of disappointment. Perhaps they just set the bar too damn high with this one. No more could they get by with merely great albums. Nothing short of a total 180 degree turn could possibly top this. It will always be my favorite."
Indie Rock Classic
Hippie Smell | Brooklyn | 03/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the album that put Stereo Lab on the map as one of the premier indie rock bands of the early 90's. This album features their most consistent recorded work and is pretty much the turning point in their career where they started becoming more synth based as where their earlier works featured some more guitar work. This is also in my opinion the best starting point for anyone new to Stereo Lab's work."
Definitive Stereolab - a great mix of everything
M. Packham | Perth, Western Australia Australia | 07/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Emperor Tomato Ketchup is a great album full of varied, distinct instrumental arrangements complemented by the soothing vocals of Laetitia Sadier. Their music is a perfect blend of techno, acid-jazz, lounge and rock, and there is a noticeable vein of Burt Bacharach surging through the album as well. Lyrically speaking, Stereolab discusses Marxism, which it's obviously in favour of, the foundation of society, politics, philosophy and many other juicy subjects. For nonsense value, a lot of the lyrics are sung in French. There are some truly great songs such as 'Cybele's Reverie', 'Metronomic Underground' and 'Tomorrow is Already Here', and in each of these there is a great crescendo throughout the song whereby one instrument starts, and then many more join in. Ultimately, Emporer Tomato Ketchup is totally unique and distinct, and is definitive Stereolab material."