Thursday, July 22, 2010

Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab Takes Us On A Solo Trip

It's going to be impossible to review the first solo album from Laetitia Sadier without mentioning Stereolab so let's get that right out of the way.

Stereolab had the unique ability to sound totally original and a bit retro at the same time. When I first heard them in 1992, they certainly sounded like some kind of break with the then current big indie trends of grunge and shoegaze, as well as a leap forward from the kids still trying to harness the Spirit of C-86.

And let's look at that retro label for a sec: a band like The Pipettes -- the great Rose Elinor Dougall's former band -- took an old style and redid it with a nod-and-a-wink.

Oasis, despite their Beatles name-dropping, really just took bits from other artists -- a T.Rex guitar-crunch-and-foot-stomp here, a Slade snarl there -- and mashed them into something fairly straightforward and anthemic.

Stereolab managed to somehow sound like the past and future at the same time; more precisely: they managed to sound like a late 1960s band trying to sound futuristic.

And while I know the Cocteau Twins and Stereolab fanbases share some members, Stereolab showed more variation and risk-tasking within their self-imposed limited choice of options where the Cocteaus kind of redid the same act with different flourishes or production effects on each record.

So all that talk of retro-ism and memorable singers brings us to the first proper solo album from Stereolab's unmistakable vocalist, Laetitia Sadier.

Sadier's The Trip, out 21 September 2010 in the States on Drag City, sounds like the singer on those Stereolab classics and at once entirely more direct and -- dare I say it? -- human!

I think there was a tendency -- even in a real Stereolab fan of 18 years' standing like myself -- to hear the stuff on a 'Lab record first; it was sometimes if the vocals were an afterthought to whatever intricate, retro concoction was being offered.

I say that knowing it's not entirely true. I'm just making a broad point to get at how warm this record sounds.

Yeah, over the course of 34-or-some minutes you Stereolab fans will get what you want: "Natural Child" sounds like something off of 2001's Sound-Dust, for instance; Opener "One Million Year Trip" would not have been entirely out-of-place on 1999's Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night; and so on.

But the two standout tracks for me are both covers that Laetitia manages to transform almost entirely.

She takes the 1969 Wendy and Bonnie song "By The Sea" and speeds up the tempo and turns a mournful neo-folk ballad into a propulsive gallop over landscapes of regret and into some new emotional turf. Where the original was sighing, this one purrs.

That song gives way -- after a short instrumental called "Unfasten" -- to a sublime cover of French rock giants Les Rita Mitsouko's "Un Soir, Un Chien".

Okay, let me just say that even if I had not listened to almost everything Stereolab released in the last 18 years, I think I would still run out and grab all of Laetitia's recordings after hearing this one cover -- it's that good!

Frankly, Laetitia has never sounded sexier. Whatever sense of holding back and conforming-to-form one heard on many Stereolab records -- no matter how experimental -- is gone now as Laetitia positively coos her way through this song!

Interestingly the album gets less and less like Stereolab as it progresses and, whether that's intentional or not, that's a good thing.

A late cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime" confirms that the world does need another cover of this old standard provided the cover is doing something new and this version is.

That cover morphs into the closing instrumental snippet "Release, Open Your Little Earthling Hands" and The Trip comes to a close.

If Laetitia Sadier is not entirely breaking with her Stereolab heritage, she is pushing the sides of that stylistic cage and -- in "Un Soir, Un Chien" -- clearly doing something wonderfully new and exciting.

It's worth noting that April March is on this somewhere but, as my advance copy did not have liner notes, I was at a bit of a loss in hearing her voice in the mix.

The Trip from Laetitia Sadier is out on 21 September 2010 from Drag City. Until then, check out Laetitia's Drag City page: