This is a comprehensive chronological 2 disc set of BBC Radio sessions spanning from 1991 - 2001. The sound is just as full as their albums, but a little more spontaneous, which adds to the appeal of this release.
It's a good way to hear how the band evolved. The line up on disc 1 is top notch, with ex Faith Healers drummer Andy Ramsay, ex Chills bassist Martin Kean. Gina Morris sang harmonies in the first session (tracks 1-4) and Mary Hansen became their second guitarist and took over backing vocals after that. Best of all, this anthology brought back lots of fond early 90s music memories.
Session 1 July 30, 1991
Super Electric starts out with sunny chords running throughout. Gina Arnold's deep harmonies are a warm contrast to Laetitia Sadier's cool cooing. The song has a driving rhythm thanks to ex-Th' Faith Healer Joe Dilworth's solid drumming that will have your head bobbing and a melody that will stick with you long after it's over. Joe Dilsworth play on tracks 1-4.
Changer starts out slower, but just as steady, as Laetitia and Gina work off each other in French and English. The band (not too) quietly builds up behind them and starts going a little faster. They add some scruffy chords and work their way to a nice finish.
Doubt starts out with a couple of scratchy chords that circle around each other much like the singers voices do. Here they sound so close that it's fun trying to guess who is singing which part and what they are singing. This seems like the early beginnings of their interest in the sounds of voices over the words.
(Difficult Fourth Title) Contact has a spacy groovy intro and here you get the full effect of their emphasis on the sounds of voices and their fondness for lots of pa da da da. The band builds a psychadelic (for them) wall of sound, starting slowly, and gradually picking up the pace but never careening out of control.
Session 2 June 28, 1992
Laissez Faire this session marks the entrance of Mary Hansen on guitar and vocals. She compliments Tim Gane and Laetitia. This is also where they fell in love with old analogue synthesizers. This song has a similar pace to Super Electric, but it has their other secret ingredient; Farfisa. Mary sings more melodic parts, letting Laetitia get more harmonies in.
Bring on the Moog and Farfisa for Revox. With Mary pa pa paing away, you really hear how their dual vocal interplay became another instrument for the band. The keys add a little more volume to the band and the words almost get obscured but the emphasis here is on the vocal sounds whether they're in English or French.
Peng 33 goes back to more guitar sounds as the keys take a back seat here, but they're always within earshot. The singing is more upfront here too, as Laetitia reminds us 'Magical moments are happening in this world..'
John Cage Bubble Gum is their first in joke. 'Silly people.. with lives' gets repeated mantra like over a single riff organ backbone. Mary and Tim churn away on their guitars, exploring more chords than on other tracks, and let the organ be monochromatic.
Session 3 September 28, 1993
The first session recording of Wow and Flutter has a groovy intro with a neat chunky guitar part. Mary's oohs soar above Laetitia's philosophizing about life and love '..when I realized that I had to let go we are mere mortals as to ther rest it's not eternal..'
Anemie is where the Farfisa really comes in. Laetitia croons in French '..l'amour secours, l'amour toujours..' The Farfisa makes a nice backdrop for Mary and Tim to make construct some scratchy sounds and as Mary and Laetitia sing around each other, the band builds up for a strong finish.
Moogie Wonderland, another band in joke has some chirpy Moog sounds that flit between the speakers. The rest of the band joins in as Mary and Laetitia wordlessly coo to each other ooh ooh pa da pa.
Heavy Denim is where the band enthusiastically or perhaps ironically declares its manifesto. Laetitia declares 'We're not here to get bored.. we are here to disrupt..have the time of our lives..' and these are the best reasons to create anything!
Session 4 December 13, 1993
On French Disko the singing is back and forth, English echoed by French. The sound here is less keys oriented and the singing here has the most urgency. The guitar sounds like bird chirping, high pitched and singular.
They recorded Wow and Flutter again, but it's slower and the vocals are more buried here. They got it right the first time and I'm not sure why they rerecorded it here.
Golden Ball has a slower, more deliberate pace, but there's still plenty of life in it. Laetitia's singing is particularly husky 'There is no above, there is no below.' The guitars are more upfront here, but they still hold back and quietly build to a great crescendo as they race to the finish.
On Lo Boob Oscillator Mary's pa pa pa almost sounds like a trumpet. This is where they finally reveal their fascination with the voice as instrument. Laetitia croons away in husky French and the band sounds playful here. Then they sneak in another interesting monochord exercise, stretch it out and add a few more chords until they're done.
Session 5 (Part 1) November 22, 1994
(Untitled) Check and Double Check has a softer slower sound and Laetitia is at her breathiest so far. As she and Mary trade phrases '..It's no way to make a story..' the band builds up behind them, but never overpowers their vocal interplay.
Seeperbold (Working Title The Pram Song) sounds like the origins of Quickspace and that's a good way to end disc 1. Mary starts the singing here as the band restrains itself and just simmers in the background. They're poised, waiting to come back in full on and it's well worth the wait.
Favorite tracks: 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 12
Stereolab's love affair with vintage Moogs and Farfisa permeated Disc 1. They incorporated even more of those elements into their sound on Disc 2. They seem to enjoy using the past as a springboard for their decidedly modern sound. They ended up with a sound that combined late 60s exotica with a very organic electronic feel. Another thing that helped them was using real drums which added a warmth to their sound I would have missed.
Session 5, Part 2, November 22, 1994
International Colouring Contest has a late 60s early 70s almost Bacharach pop feel, especially in the organ riff. The persistent steady drumming gives it a bit of solidity to keep it from sounding too watery.
Anamorphose has a steady monochord guitar mixed with a playful organ riff. The singing is buried at first but gradually comes into focus. Laetitia's French musings are again complimented by Mary's trumpet like pa pa pas. The band builds a nice rhythm as Laetitia's and Mary's voices float and the 'nursery rhymes' stay in your head. As the song builds, they seem to want to transport you to their romantic cities. There is an accordion like sound that reminds you of Paris and then Farfisa riff to bring you back to swinging London. It's the first stretched out number here, just over 7 minutes, but it's a nice trip.
Session 6 February 15, 1996
Metronomic Underground has a spacy watery introduction that gives way to a slowed down funky groove. The vocals are buried at first, but gradually rise to the same level of the band. This time, Mary starts singing, after a 4 intro for the band to build on and continue its cool grooving. Laetitia and Mary repeat nonsensical French/English phrases that weave around each other as the band comes back with more spacy watery Moog and guitar musings. This is a fun 10 minute voyage.
Brigitte has even spacier Moog sounds as Laetitia coos away in French. I like how the band kicks in at the middle and takes away the loungey feel of the intro. They slow down the pace again for a completely different feel. They've left the lounge, but they're not in any hurry.
Spinal Column has an Moog intro that would be right at home on an episode of Lost in Space. Laetitia sings in a higher register here, that's not quite as alluring as her husky crooning. My favorite part of this track is the great drumming that keeps it in this universe.
Tomorrow is Already Here is surprisingly Moog free. I like the egg shaker intro and the meandering Farfisa. Mary sings and Laetitia harmonizes as they consider the future '..what society does..to deserve the institution..' Their call and response works well with the off kilter pace, deliberate organ riff and sleighbells.
Session 7, February 26, 1996. It's hard to believe that these 2 sessions are only 11 days apart, because they sound so different from each other. Perhaps it's the sound of their evolution.
Les Yper sound has a throbbing fuzzy bass with strong drumming and of course, Moog. There are some groovy Farfisa chords flitting between the speakers. Laetitia waits for the band to build on all this before making her entrance and Mary joins in soon after. There's barely a pause as the band comes back in with the fuzzy bass and the drumming echoes back and forth between the speakers.
(Heavenly Van Halen) Pinball has a cool electric piano and Moog thread running throughout. Laetita's French vocals are doubled over here. This song has a similar feel to early New Order, with nice keyboards and synths and minimal guitar chords that come in on top.
Cybele's Reverie goes back into outer space. Mary's backing vocals sound like an instrument here, one of their favorite devices. Their singing has a dreamy feel as it propels the song and it changes pace '..les pieds des hommes...' Mary trumpets her pa pa pas just above the band and they return to their earlier harmonizing for a neat finish.
Slow Fast Hazel paces itself like the title. I like the watery guitar sound and the playful tinkling organ. The pace changes and singing here work very well and there's a nice groove running throughout.
Session 8, August 16, 2001 After a 5 year gap between sessions, they seem to have landed back on earth.
Nothing to do with me has Mary starting off the singing. They seem to have rediscovered their guitars and they've brought the vocals up to the front. They're still blending in keyboards, but they're not as center stage.
Double Rocker has a slower feel. The English and French singing moves everything along smoothly. They change pace and start flying along with some fun Farfisa and Moog jamming complemented by Laetitia's trombone bleating and Mary's less kooky Lene Lovich like '..happy happy la de da..'
Baby Lulu has spacy oohs and aahs from Laetitia and Mary instead of Moog. It seems like 2 different songs. Laetitia's singing has a spacy torch song effect and then some inspired improvisational drumming crashes in. Some watery Moog sets the alternating pace and the singing stretches back and forth.
Naught more terrific than man, one of their funnier (ironic?) titles. The synths double nicely with Laetitia's singing about a super ID '..He was dumb as I surpassed all expectancy...' This is a good closer for the sessions as it has alot of their favorite themes; love and the future.
It was fascinating hearing how the band's sound and ideas changed over the years. This is a good primer for neophytes because you get a good overview of their different phases.
Favorite tracks: 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 11