For the past eight years, I’ve been an avid and loyal fan of Stereolab. Starting with Emperor Tomato Ketchup, I quickly amassed a collection amounting to all of their proper full-length releases, plus the three-part Switched On singles collection series and the occasional EP. And throughout every major event in my adult life, Stereolab was there, if not lurking around the corner. They were my new favorite band. Then they were reliable standbys. Then nostalgic comfort music. But just when I thought their charm only existed in the past, they returned with Margerine Eclipse and whisked away any doubt of their artistic permanence. I eventually became more selective about additions to my collection — I saw no need for purchasing the BBC Live set, nor was I thoroughly impressed with their last couple of major label EPs. Yet the full-lengths never failed to impress me. From their raw, noisy beginnings in Peng! to the analog synth-lounge of Eclipse, I took solace in Stereolab’s consistently good and puritanically prolific body of work.
When I heard about Oscillons From the Anti-Sun, however, the level of excitement that welled up inside me surprised even myself. Had I not gotten a review copy, I promised myself, I would track one down at my local record stop. Hell, I would become one of the many pre-ordering fanatics that propelled the 3-disc box set to the top of Insound’s best-sellers list. But something in me needed to hear the sweet sounds of Laetitia Sadier’s socialist lyrics against Tim Gane & Co.’s beautifully anachronistic post-lounge.
When I finally received my copy and pressed play, the stereo’s emanating sounds instantly took me back to my happy place. All of my favorite singles, coupled with rare tracks and b-sides, gave me an inexplicable feeling of joy. From the Technicolor pop of “Fluorescences” to the ten-minute plus jam of “Soop Groove #1,” the joy spills out onto three discs of `lab classics, including tracks even I haven’t heard. But I must preface by saying even many of these b-sides I have at one point or another had copies of. Yet, somehow, collected in this setting, are much more enjoyable.
There are several phases that Stereolab went through, as evident on these 35 songs. There’s the Farfisa-wielding shoegazers (“Fruition,” “Moogie Wonderland”), the space age popsters (“Wow and Flutter,” “Ping Pong,” both in slightly different form than their album versions), krautrock torch-bearers (“Pinball,” “Golden Ball”) and jazz pop hipsters (“Allures,” “Spinal Column”). While many of these rare tracks, the majority of which were unreleased in the States until now, will have fans salivating, some of the more familiar tracks are the ones that reassure how great a band Stereolab are and were. “Cybele’s Reverie,” a single from the Emperor Tomato Ketchup era, is easily one of the band’s best, sacrificing repetition and grooves for spectacular songwriting. “Fluorescences,” as well, is magnificent, layering on horns, flutes, guitars and synths-a-plenty. The version of “French Disco” here (spelled with a “c,” not a “k”) is cleaner and better produced than the version on Refried Ectoplasm. And let’s not forget the Tortoise-meets-Dave Brubeck joint “The Free Design,” easily among the best songs in the band’s entire catalog.
Still, it’s fun to hear oddities like the twinkling “Canned Candies,” a jazzy cousin to The Shins’ “New Slang.” Or the pounding, distorted groove of “Narco Martenot.” And though the melody escapes me at the moment, I really dig the name “Moodles.” Say what you will about Stereolab, but they came up with some really fantastic song titles over the last 15 years or so.
Stereolab fans, much as myself, have plenty to be excited about with Oscillons. It’s a lengthy and extensive collection, even if there were songs from the last few years that were omitted. My money is on those songs being released on the next Switched On compilation, whenever that should come along. Nonetheless, with 35 songs to revel in, Oscillons provides the discriminating listener with a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting set of music that proves the worth of b-sides and singles alike. Oh, joy!
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.