Consider the dilemma of the established alternative musician: as fans’ ears for earlier adventures gets recast as “adult-oriented,” the artist can go on pushing boundaries and hope audiences keep up, or she can return to the sounds she’s most identified her with. If the latter, the question then: is this return done in good faith (to resolve unfinished work or settle familiar scores) or bad (to trot out their brand for another commercial foray)? New albums from Goldfrapp and Stereolab co-founder Laetitia Sadier illustrate how the task of re-staking their claim to a familiar sound should be done.
The last standing icons from Britain’s original electronica a-list, Goldfrapp are synonymous with a dramatic pop characterized by technicolor orchestrations and Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy, ravishing vocals. Within that template, their albums have alternated between contrasting styles: a throbbing dancefloor stomp designed for nocturnal hedonism and a delicate, melancholy sound suited for rainy mornings. On their latest album Silver Eye, Goldfrapp achieve the synthesis that eluded them all these years. The sound is fully within their wheelhouse, and occasionally (as on lead single “Anymore”) grounded firmly within one or the other foundations, but over the course of the album the emotional dynamics feel fresh — a new path for their future direction, and a fine place for listeners to check back in on the group’s journey.
Stereolab evolved gradually in their twenty years, so potent and fruitful were their recombinations of exotic lounge music, krautrock, post-war avant garde, French ye-ye, Brazilian samba, and Marxism, so it’s understandable if Laetitia Sadier’s solo work progressed at a similar pace, maybe more preoccupied with finding a personal voice to respond to her band’s break-up and other personal troubles. With the new Finding Me Finding You she re-deploys her long-time strategies and lyrical concerns in the context of a new band, the Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble. Metronomic rhythms and quirky instrumentation — vintage organs, xylophones, a muted trumpet — layer upon one another, creating a sonic cocktail that is unmistakably Stereolab, but new pleasures emerge in hearing new members adapt and modify the tried-and-true format. As “Love Captive” suggests, you’ll never hear the restrained Sadier shout it to the mountains, but Finding Me Finding You demonstrates an assuring sense of confidence in her legacy and the musical work still ahead.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.