Instant 0 in the Universe (Elektra)

Stereolab is a very "cool" band. Since the Franco-Anglican collective started putting out albums in 1991, they have been hailed by critics and fans alike as swinging space-age retro-pop futurists. Now, on what seems like their 9,276th release, Instant 0 in the Universe, the group isn't doing anything to change that impression.

All the touchstones of their previous efforts are included on this five-track EP. From the ultra-hip influences (a touch of Esquivel, a dash of Can, a dollop of a funky Bacharach) to the warm tones of cooing chanteuse Laetitia Sadier, the Stereolab formula remains intact. In fact, it's so intact that it seems formulaic at this point. What was once a mind-expanding and rhythmic polyglot of interstellar fusion and femme fatale vocals on earlier albums such as Mars Audiac Quintet and Emperor Tomato Ketchup has become stale. The only track here that really achieves liftoff is "Microclimate," which alternates between a chiming guitar riff and a hard pulsing drumbeat. The rest seems a bit like a retread of where Stereolab's been before, only not as interesting. It's as if they've run around the same track so many times that they're starting to lap themselves.

Sounding too much like oneself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for a band that was once so adventurous, comfortably settling into a groove can quickly equate to becoming stuck in a rut. Instant would make a tasteful soundtrack for a dinner party or a morphine-and-absinthe bender, but not a whole lot else. A new full length is expected early next year, and with any luck, Stereolab can get past being "cool" and start writing interesting music again.

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