Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
Stereolab includes: Laetitia Sadier (vocals); Tim Gane (guitar).
After an ear-pricking opening ("Fuses") peppered with hints of Art Ensemble of Chicago-like percussive free jazz, it's business as usual for Stereolab. For 1997's DOTS AND LOOPS, the group took cues from Mouse on Mars and Tortoise and assembled its distinctive synth whooshes and intricate but perfectly polished pop via hard-disc. COBRA brings performance back into play, with post-production duties split between High Llamas maestro Sean O'Hagan and Chicago avant-garde poster boys Jim O'Rourke and John McEntire. Stereolab makes their job easy by providing some of its most ambitious, sophisticated, yet unfailingly poppy compositions yet.
A few more shockers in line with "Fuses" would have been welcome, but myriad small surprises and instantly addictive melodies substitute for the usual more startling changes in direction. "Italian Shoes/Continuum" stirs up Stereolab's space age Moog-music to a Euro prog-rock frenzy. The vibe-alicious "The Free Design" pays tribute to the baroque choral-pop of the lost '70s legends. On such marathon excursions as "Blue Milk" and "Caleidoscopic Gaze," Stereolab packs ideas--not to mention funky analog workouts, subtle breakbeats, and chiming guitars--into every turn. Throughout, wall-to-wall counterpoint harmonies, Sadier/Gane's classy Continental songcraft, punchy horns, and O'Rourke's slightly woozy string arrangements make for an endlessly enchanting 75 minutes.
Spin (11/99, p.194) - 6 out of 10 - "...Favoring un-easy listening over dance attack, this 75-minute-plus epic benfits from ruthless home listener editing: connect the dots, drop the loops."
Entertainment Weekly (9/24/99, p.147) - "...cerebral free-jazz, odd time signatures, and lengthy ethereal drones. COBRA takes time to work its charm, but it's well worth the effort." - Rating: B+
Q (11/99, p.135) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...finds them diligently composing futuristic yet highly dated test tunes for 8-track cartridge players, tackling yesterday's technology today....lovely music..."
Alternative Press (10/99, p.110) - 4 out of 5 - "...the band's jazziest album to date, with vibraphones taking a prominent role....few bands make sweetly psychadelic pop as enduring as they do."
The Wire (1/00, p.67) - Included in Wire Magazine's "50 Records Of The Year ['99]"
The Wire (10/99, pp.57-8) - "...the Stereolab formula gets taken further with a syncopated makeover that goes for breezy Latin insouciance and a poised clarity of tone....cool, casual and collected to the last."
Mojo (Publisher) (10/99, p.96) - "...There's a lot of music on COBRA....Some of it is flutteringly pretty, and some of it...confirms that Stereolab are inching ever closer to the sound of Camberwell cronies The High Llamas....It's all perfectly cool and groovy..."