Stereolab play Tuesday, October 15, at the Showbox. steve double

Years Active:
19 (they returned this year after a decade-long hiatus).

London, England.

Essential Albums:
Peng!, Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Dots and Loops, Simple Headphone Mind, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night.

Essential Songs:
It's impossible to narrow it down to a manageable number, but here goes—"Golden Ball" (an "All Tomorrow's Parties" homage, but more sinister and disjointed); "Metronomic Underground" (a skewed take on Can's "Yoo Doo Right," but funkier); "Soop Groove #1" (hypno-minimalist, IDM groove science); "Vonal Declosion" (swirling, Serge Gainsbourg–like funk); "Parsec" (a drum & bass samba); "Perversion" (subtle homage to the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," minus the VU song's sublime peaks); "We're Not Adult Orientated" (more "What Goes On" worship); "Les Yper-Sound" (what Radiohead's Kid A wishes it could be); "Olv 26" (serene drones, wonky oscillations, tranquil cruising tempo); "The Noise of Carpet" (their punkiest moment); "Trippin' with the Birds" (peak lysergic disorientation with Nurse with Wound); "Emperor Tomato Ketchup" (nods to PiL's "Socialist"); "Jenny Ondioline" (Neu!'s motorik klassik "Hallogallo" repurposed as girl-group gloriousness); "Escape Pod (From the World of Medical Observations)" (their most unhinged psych-rocker); "The Free Design" (complex rhythms, oddly enchanting melody); "Fuses" (bizarro-world, vibraphone-powered jazz); "Outer Accelerator" (hat tip to Michael Rother's Flammende Herzen); "Fiery Yellow" (an exotica tribute à la the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"); "Blue Milk" (transcendent, Terry Riley–esque minimalism).

Influenced By:
Neu!, the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers, Can, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the Beach Boys, the Free Design, Brian Eno, Silver Apples, Steve Reich, Françoise Hardy, Esquivel, yé-yé.

Influence On:
Broadcast, Cornelius, the Postal Service, Electrelane, Füxa.

Stereolab are returning to the live circuit after a 10-year layoff. Ergo, they may be slightly rusty. Also, their last two albums—Chemical Chords and Not Music—are lackluster. But considering how many excellent songs Stereolab released throughout the 1990s, this may be a moot point. Finally, a tip for record collectors: Avoid the reissues put out by a dubious label called 1972. Splurge instead on Warp Records' more recent rereleases, which sound better, come loaded with bonus tracks, and filter money to Stereolab.

Why You Should Give a Fuck:
Stereolab have built a towering canon by cleverly synthesizing their members' impeccable, eclectic musical tastes. Their sophisticated bricolage of elements—krautrock's motorik grooves, Can and the Velvet Underground's droning keyboards and chugging guitars, dulcet vocals somewhere between Françoise Hardy and Astrud Gilberto, analog-synth fuckery à la Silver Apples and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, suave appropriation of loungey smoothness—coalesces into bewitching songs that age well.

If listening to a woman elegantly illustrate the flaws of capitalism in French and English in a languidly buoyant tone pushes your buttons, Lætitia Sadier has you covered. (Her wonderful vocal foil, the Australian Mary Hansen, tragically perished in a bicycle crash in 2002, and Stereolab haven't been the same since.)

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Honestly, Sadier and Hansen could be singing about their favorite plants, pastries, or pole vaulters, and it wouldn't really matter. Their voices succeed as instruments of pure joy, their mellifluousness epitomizing chill diva status. But if lyrics are your bag, Sadier and Hansen deploy sugary voices to convey vinegary ideas, such as this one from "Nihilist Assault Group": "Morals are for the blind / Not a critical mind," while "Ping Pong" decries economic booms and busts and manufactured wars' effects within an utterly charming pop context.

Here's the crazy thing: Stereolab could do a five-hour concert and still not exhaust their storehouse of spellbinding songs. By siphoning so many influences from music's elite tier, they've become hugely influential and distinctive in their own right.