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Thursday, May 5, 2005

Review - Oscillons From the Anti-Sun

Artist: Stereolab

Posted on Thu, May 5, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Stereolab is almost as renowned for prolific music-making as for the consistency of that very music. Singles, EPs, compilations and one-off tracks are, pound for pound, as much an integral part of the group's sonic history as the eight proper albums in their discography. It could be argued that these occasional releases are more illuminating than the albums, since it's there that we hear the subtle (some would say glacial) shifts in sound in genesis and, more often than not, we hear Stereolab at its most adventurous.

Oscillons is the fourth Stereolab compilation, which may seem a bit of a drag for those of us who've bothered buying the three volumes of Switched On that have done a decent job of compiling hard-to-find "occasional" tracks. Those three sets were done in a decidedly completist vein, each corralling tons of rare tracks; yet, amazingly, the 48 tracks spread across them only scraped the surface.

Oscillons brings together a sizable chunk of what's left. This three-CD/one-DVD box set piles on the singles and EPs that Stereolab released between 1993 and 1999, making another 35 rare tracks that much easier to find. As it spans a greater time period than any of the individual Switched On sets and is not organized chronologically, Oscillons does a great job of presenting the full scope of Stereolab's sonic palette.

The consistencies are still there – Laetitia Sadier's mellifluous French vocals, the gloopy, blippy vintage synths – but with the large net that Oscillons casts, it's fun to compare and contrast back-to-back tracks like 1994's "Wow and Flutter" with 1999's "With Friends Like These." The nonlinear presentation helps to elevate some of the middling pieces that come at the chronological tail end by bookending them with interesting songs from earlier in the band's career. It's also worth noting that the timeline for Oscillons runs out six years ago. So it goes without saying that a second volume will be forthcoming at some point.

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