Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.


Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra)

I can't figure out yet why it's so hard for me to form words about Stereolab. I like 'em! And they have soooooo many sounds. But when I try to set it down on paper, nothing happens. Here's the kind of notes I have to work with:

• charming French blah blah blah

• has a beat

• computer farts—the good kind

• horse breath

• repetitive sometimes (title song)

• zizzle zoozle

And on and on like that. It's hard, somehow, to really make jokes or try to describe Stereolab. The music shows up, and even if you don't usually like electronic music or this kind of layered, collagelike music-making, it just makes sense. It's a weird pile of music built on a framework of normal pop songs. Like it starts with an outline of a song that some pop music machine guy wrote and workshopped for ease of consumption, and then Stereolab took that song out to a dark room and beat it up and then sprinkled glitter on it and told it a joke and touched it in its special area and then... wham! Out comes a song that sounds a little bit normal but also totally wackadoo—a Christmas tree of normality covered in deformed decorations and with some limbs artfully sawed off.

So that's all this is, an artful pile. Papier-mâché music. It has some symphonic strings, a lot of wow-wow-wow and zoozle computery sounds, but plenty of recognizable rock instruments, too. There's good buildup—when should you keep going with that theme? And when should you make it louder? And at what point do you really blow it out and call it done? Stereolab know the answers to those questions. I decided to look them up and figure out what that might teach me.

They're a British band from the 1990s who have been called post-rock. They're well loved but not hugely commercially successful. There are a lot of French vocals; those come from Lætitia Sadier, who is so completely French that she has to make up new vowels. ("Lætitia" is French for "come eat this croissant.") Along with bilingual lyricism, Sadier apparently plays keyboards, guitar, and trombone, among other things. Any tromboner is good in my book! Another Stereolab vocalist and guitarist, Mary Hansen, was tragically hit and killed by a truck while she was riding her bicycle.

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But what is so good about Stereolab? I don't know that I can say. I tried! I said some word things. But somehow, Stereolab is for ears and listening. Trying to parse it just doesn't work.

I give this a "put it in your ears yourself" out of 10. recommended