Has it really been 2 years since the first solo album from Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier? Readers will recall that I quite liked 2010's The Trip and I can say that I like the new Silencio even more.
Like The Trip, Silencio, out on 24 July on Drag City, sounds enough like Stereolab to please old fans and different enough to make it obvious why there was a need for the singer to do a solo record in the first place.
That said, there are moments on Silencio that sound very much like Stereolab, especially the sort of thing the band was doing on 1997's Dots and Loops, for example.
Where The Trip seemed -- in some moments, at least -- to focus on a kind of rarefied Europop, a blissed-out spin on late era disco, maybe, Silencio is more expansive, with soundscapes unfurling out behind Sadier's wonderful voice.
Dare I use the word "soaring" to describe her voice at some points here?
"The Rules of the Game" -- Yes, it's inspired by the Jean Renoir film! -- opens things with a languid and space-y stroll through familiar territory. Like an old McCarthy cut slowed down, Laetitia's thoughts on the "ruling class" are spoken over lovely backing vocals and a hint of an organ. Love the ending workout here!
"Find Me The Pulse Of The Universe" is an ascending riff-rocker in the mold of those 'Lab cuts. Clear vocals dominate and the gently percolating backing track gallops forward.
"Silent Spot" contains one of Laetitia's loveliest vocal performances to date. A near Jobim-like melody underpins this soaring song. It's wistful in a way but not sickeningly so.
"Auscultation to the Nation" rocks out with Laetitia's dissection of the world's financial situation. Radical and still lovely, Sadier rattles off a litany against the so-called "elites" of the world. The song descends into Throbbing Gristle-like noise near the end -- the sound of the financial markets crashing?
The magnificent "There Is A Price To Pay For Freedom (And It Isn't Security)" charms just as much on the album as it did as an advance free MP3. Just a lovely tune. The equal of any of the cuts on the last few Stereolab records, this song, with its post-9/11 era title, is clearly the highlight of Silencio. The production here -- the otherworldly bits, the Mellotron -- are used expertly and when Sadier's voice hits that bridge it's like the Andrea True Connection meeting a Philip Glass instrumental line.
"Moi Sans Zach" echoes the discofied cuts on The Trip not so much in a dance beat but in an attitude. The spoken French makes this sound like some lost Eurotrash flipside, the sort of thing Gainsbourg would spin when he was trying to woo Whitney Houston after that infamous TV show.
(Needless to say, my French is so rusty that I couldn't make out more than one or two words -- "des sandwich" -- here!)
"Between Earth and Heaven" is a push-and-pull between two styles. The song revs up and then slows down. There's a vaguely Brazilian touch to the guitar figure and some of the percussive elements. This is the cut on the record that doesn't sound very much like Stereolab. This cut pairs up smoothly with the following "Lightning Thunderbolt", a similar song.
"Fragment pour le future de l'homme" is a downright funky song that sounds a bit like Curtis Mayfield with Laetitia's (English) vocals purring over the cut. The blaxploitation guitar contrasts nicely with Sadier's chiming vocals. The organ here is a nice bit of Innervisions business.
"Merci de m'avoir donné la vie" is a gently chiming, slightly sinister stroll -- think Tindersticks.
"Next Time You See Me" finds Sadier back with Stereolab partner Tim Gane and the track sounds like a lost gem from Sound-Dust (2001). The duo's vocals blend effortlessly and it's the sound of a million indie kids swooning to the familiar sounds of another era.
"Invitation Au Silence" closes things off with a spoken word piece.
Silencio should please fans of Laetitia's first solo record and fans of her work in Stereolab, especially the mid-1990s stuff.
Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake shows up here as well. Nothing here is going to probably please diehard fans of "Revox", for instance. But the work that Laetitia is doing on Silencio is more mature and more nuanced. Her vocals now embrace more of a jazz style. And she seems to have more range now.
Silenceio is out 24 July on Drag City.