Serene Velocity


Elektra, 2006

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


As one of the most relevant indie acts of today, Stereolab deserves a larger fan base. Yet the group (or “groop,” as fans call it) has been around for 15 years and has issued music each year, making it tough to find a starting point for an incoming fan.

Covering the entire Stereolab catalog with Elektra from 1993 to 2004, Serene Velocity isn’t Stereolab’s first “best of” record. But it is the perfect record for a new discoverer of this great British act.

Stereolab is a difficult act to get the hang of and newcomers will likely find the albums too weird because of the experimental nature. Fortunately, every cut on Serene Velocity is accessible, at least according to Stereolab’s standards, and the chronological arrangement shows the group’s progression from a modest guitar-driven straightforward sound to the current psychedelic quirkiness. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Cuts like “Jenny Ondioline,” “Crest” and “French Disko” show the less complicated and more raw-edged sound of early Stereolab. The crisp guitars and tighter tunes show little hint of the psychedelic ’60s bubble-pop sound that later became a trademark style.

The first signs of the group’s sixties psychedelic sound is heard on “Ping Pong” and “Wow And Flutter,” both from Mars Audiac Quintet, and the music, going further into the record, becomes more fluid and experimental. “Cybele’s Reverie,” “Percolator” and the maniacally monotonous eight-minute long “Metronomic Underground” from the acclaimed Emperor Tomato Ketchup show Stereolab’s fully formed airy signature sound that it would retain from that point on.

Stereolab’s awkwardly complex tunes are full of layers, which become more apparent as the disc progresses. On the recent material, as the music gets richer the production does too, which adds an element of danceability to the band as heard on cuts like “Infinity Girl,” “Double Rocker” and the most electronic Stereolab track of all, “Vonal Declosion.” Even on the very simple “…Sudden Stars,” the last track, the complex drum arrangements give a foot-tapping quality to this otherwise lesser dance number.

Throughout the record, irrespective of the group’s changing styles and varying musical sensibilities, the voice that identifies Stereolab remains uninfluenced. Laetitia Sadier’s peculiarly complacent vocals always remain the focal point of each song. Even the sleek music production has left Sadier’s vocals completely untouched. To an extent, the credit to Stereolab’s organic sound goes to Sadier’s odd singing that is all natural and not forced.

Though it is hard to condense the best of Stereolab’s vast catalog to one disc, Serene Velocity is as comprehensive as a single best-of disc can get. This record offers nothing special for a Stereolab fan, as it contains no new songs, but there is plenty for someone who always wanted to try this band and was always afraid to do so. They should be warned, though, that the disc represents some of the most mind-blowing indie music ever.

Rating: A

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© 2006 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra, and is used for informational purposes only.