PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 2008, 12:00am


Chemical Chords (4AD)

Stereolab inhabit their own little bubblegum reality.

For almost two decades this little outfit have been successfully melding the musical tastes, techniques and technologies of the latter half of the 20th century into a stream of beautiful albums.

This one is very much in the same vein, although the music has been somewhat pared back to its more Spartan post-rock roots.

Laetitia Sadier's detached vocals trip alongside the furry buzz of the vintage synth equipment Stereolab are known for. A layer of horns adds a lovely corduroy effect while the whole thing is driven along by the clashing of what sounds like a troop of clockwork monkeys merrily bashing their cymbals together.

Opener Neon Beanbag is a poppy, foot-tapping celebration, while Three Women, with its chunky bassline and building horns, breaks over you like a spring dawn.

Silver Sands is one of the standouts, reminding us grown-ups that somewhere inside, part of us is still hanging out at The Magic Roundabout.

The tunes are mostly upbeat but distinctly quirky. Lately, however, a tinge of melancholy - a reminder of the tragic 2002 death of vocalist Mary Hansen - has suffused the band's work.

This is especially apparent in the latter part of this release.

There are a number of generic filler tracks here, and while still quite listenable, they do tend to blur the progression so the standout tracks don't really catch the attention as well as they should.

This album's name apparently comes from a cookbook where the author describes how despite there being a limited number of basic tastes on a person's palate, individual foods activate them in various intensities - as chemical chords - to produce specific flavours. Also, band leader Tim Gane told Wired magazine recently, he just liked 'the sound of those words together'.

Whatever the reality, it works.