For as much sadness and turmoil as there's been in the Stereolab camp these past couple of years -- the death of singer/keyboardist Mary Hansen following a bicycle accident in 2002; the divorce of founding members Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier shortly before -- you'd never really know it from listening to the Anglo-French art-pop group's ninth full-length release, Margerine Eclipse. Truly, it's as cheerful and brisk as any other album it's put out over the past decade. And aside from the missing vocal interplay between Sadier and Hansen (an absence which, quite frankly, will probably go unnoticed by the casual fan), every customary aesthetic is present: the fizzy analog melodies and drones, the repetitive Krautrock rhythms, the bits and pieces of avant-garde electronica, the lounge/bossa nova textures, Sadier's semi-aloof Gallic croon, and so on.
Onstage, the members of Stereolab might not be the most animated of performers -- 100-year-old oak trees have been known to move around more -- but they've always been great at beefing up their stylish sound in the concert setting, thickening it with layers of horns, guitars and added percussion to transform occasionally monotonous grooves into dynamic and mesmerizing jams. For this tour, at least, the band has retired many of the old hits in favor of Margerine material; a nod to Hansen's live irreplaceability and an acknowledgement that despite the recent tribulations, the show must indeed go on.
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