Thursday, November 24, 2011

OPINION: Stereolab Albums – Ranked from Best to Worst

Stereolab seem to be one of those weird bands that everyone knows about and have been around forever, but they’re never really called out as notable. They were even one of the first groups to be labeled post rock before post rock became about the crescendos and overly dramatic guitar playing. But for me, they’re one of the most innovative and ambitious groups of the 90’s, with records which still sound fresh even 15-20 years later. But like all bands, they aren’t without their missteps (there’s some big ones), and as such, I present my personal opinion on their discography, each album ranked from best to worst.

1. Dots & Loops
It's front to back flawless. It’s Stereolab’s best work and one of my favourite albums of all time. Screw Merriweather Post Pavillion, I personally think this is the best blending of experimental and pop that there has ever been. The two seamlessly coexist in a world of jazzy lounge-type keyboards, fucked up time signatures and vocals that jump between French to English from song to song. Every time I listen to this record I pick up something new, even if it’s a quiet sound effect or a backing instrument. Either way, I love it.

Best track: Too hard to choose from.
Worst track: None

2. Emperor Tomato Ketchup
This is the one that the critics love, the one that is most widely known as their best, and it is pretty damn good. At this stage they were still holding onto their rock roots, but slowly starting to add in the weird effects and electronics which would be more brought to the surface in Dots & Loops. There’s actually nothing wrong with this, it’s just a personal choice for me that Dots & Loops is above this.

Best track: Motoroller Scalatron
Worst track: Emperor Tomato Ketchup

3. Margerine Eclipse
This was the last great Stereolab record. To me it takes everything that was great about their entire back catalogue, and condenses it into a solid record. There’s no misses here, and despite this was the first album without Mary Hansen’s trademark backing vocals, it sounds as if they’ve been reinvigorated. The songwriting is on point, the melodies are as strong as ever, and the arrangements are complex, but they’re not flashy or overly technical. Overall, it’s just a really good album.

Best track: The Man with 100 Cells
Worst track: Dear Marge

4. Mars Audiac Quintet
Rewind 10 years before Margerine Eclipse, and you’ve got Mars Audiac Quintet, a record steeped in the catchiest walls of noise you’ll ever hear. This was the record that Stereolab used to try to break away from being a krautrock/noise rock band and expand their sound into a poppier, more accessible sound. The noisey guitars are still here, but gone are the rough edges, except on a few tracks. The tracks are very polished, very nice sounding. They still grind and buzz, but they also shine and sparkle here too. Despite a few missteps, it’s a solid record.

Best track: Nihilist Assault Group
Worst track: Anamophose

5. Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements
I often forget that Stereolab could create as much noise as Sonic Youth in their early days. This is by far their noisiest record, the guitars chug and clang like they're being hit with scrap metal, and the keyboards buzz and whir like chainsaws. But over the top are Laetitia Sadier’s beautiful vocals, and a steady krautrock beat holding it together and keeping it all moving. On the negative side, some of the tracks sound like they were sloppily put together, and I know that’s probably intentional, but the Stereolab I know is a clean and neat band. Even though, I still enjoy this record a lot, and it’s still growing on me to this day.

Best track: Jenny Ondioline
Worst track: Golden Ball

6. Sound-Dust
This is an interesting record, it contains some of the best Stereolab songs ever written, but it’s wedged between some really overly long and uninteresting ones. For example, Naught More Terrific Than Man and Nothing to Do with Me, the former a classic which sounds like it could fit easily on Dots & Loops, and the latter a hilarious yet insanely catchy track with Hansen doing a duet with Sadier. In between Suggestion Diabolique, an 8 minute mesh of 1-2 minute songs, none of which work together or are at all ear catching, and Gus the Mynah Bird, an alright song, but with a 3 minute outro of blurbling synths. This happens throughout the whole album, it’s up and down like a roller coaster. Thankfully, there’s more good than bad here, and what’s bad isn’t really bad, just more uninteresting.

Best track: Naught More Terrific than Man/Hallucinex (can’t split them)
Worst track: Suggestion Diabolique

7. Chemical Chords
With this outing, Stereolab tried to condense their earlier more expansive work, trying not to change tracks mid-song, but make just nice short pop songs. In some ways it works, with tracks like Valley Hi! and Cellulose Sunshine being great tracks, but of course, Stereolab always gets ahead of themselves and creates more lifeless and go nowhere tracks like the title track, and Vortical Phonotheque, which has a melody which is not memorable at all. Overall, a weak effort, but it pulls a few nice tunes despite the negatives.

Best track: Three Women
Worst track: Chemical Chords

8. Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
I always say, no matter what Stereolab album, no matter how bad overall, you will always get one, two or even three really amazing songs. That’s the case here, you get Infinity Girl, one of the best Stereolab songs ever written, and a handful of others. Besides these tracks, the rest is either flat out horrible, or just half formed ideas, extended by electronic noodling and overly long endings. This is the only album where Stereolab is actually bad. Blue Milk is an 11 minute mess because it does absolutely nothing. I can’t listen to the whole album because of this song alone, and it’s surrounded by mostly just mediocre and middle of the road stuff.

Best track: Infinity Girl
Worst track: Blue Milk

9. Peng!
The first Stereolab record is admirable, but ultimately forgettable. There’s nothing here that they didn’t do better and expand upon in Transient, but there’s a few nice haunting tracks like K-Stars and Super Falling Star. Everything else is not really notable at all. That’s all I really have to say.

Best track: K-Stars
Worst track: Mellotron

10. Not Music
You know what I said earlier, that there’s an amazing track on every Stereolab album? Forget it; this album has no memorable tracks. Nothing bad, but the tracks that I remember are the remixes, nothing of the actual album. It’s a bunch of tracks left over from the Chemical Chords session, and that’s what it sounds like, there’s nothing exciting, nothing interesting, just like if you took a good Stereolab record and drained all of the colour out of it. There’s nothing here, save two nice remixes. Sorry guys.

Best track: Silver Sands [Emperor Machine Mix]
Worst track: I couldn’t tell you, none of them stick out as bad, or good, to be honest.


  1. you blew it bro.

    1. tomato ketchup
    2. peng
    3. transient random-noise
    4. mars audiac quintet
    5. margerine eclipse

    etc etc

  2. Dots and Loops not top 5? what's wrong with you.

  3. where is space age bachelor pad music, tho?

  4. You actually forgot entirely what I'd consider one of their best: The First of the Microbe Hunters.

  5. I dont understandy why so many people hate Cobra and Phases. I think it might be my favorite.

    1. Not my favorite, but definitely in my top 5. Their most underrated for sure, that albums a masterpiece

  6. Well-reviewed. I'd place Sound Dust at #2 thanks to the tracks you mentioned, but also considering Baby Lulu, a phenomenally-textured exploration of styles and time signatures. Spot on with the nearly-unlistenable Cobra. Dots & Loops is, indeed, their zenith.

  7. I think Transient Random Noise Bursts is by far their best album and probably my favourate album of all time. After this I love refried ectoplasm and then probably Mars Audiac Quintet. For me MAQ marked the point at which all their later albums became less enjoyable. There were a few good tracks on later albums, but only a handful. I think as they moved to increasingly to tinny elevator music they lost the magic.

  8. I have never heard Peng! That being said...

    1) Fab Four Suture
    2) Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements
    3) Dots and Loops
    4) Not Music
    5) Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
    6) Emperor Tomato Ketchup
    7) Chemical Chords
    8) Instant O in the Universe
    9) Sound-Dust
    10) Margerine Eclipse
    11) Space Age Bachelor Pad Music
    12) The First of the Microbe Hunters
    13) Mars Audiac Quintet

  9. 1) Dots and Loops
    2) Emperor Tomato Ketchup
    3) Transient Noise Bursts
    4) Cobra and Phases
    5) Mars Audiac Quintent

    Haven't heard enough of their other albums but these are the ones I keep going back to

  10. No memorable tracks on Not Music? Everybody's Weird Except Me is absolutely superb

  11. Stereolab is a band where people are going to really, really, really disagree, because they didn't objectively improve, rather they shift between several styles, emphasizing different parts of their blend.

    For me and others who like the wall of guitar stuff, the best stuff is the early stuff ...

    Switched On
    Transient Random Noise Bursts

    I fully understand how someone else might like MAQ to dots and loops era the best, and a third person might like the more recent stuff the best.

    Even on a given album, people will like completely different songs best.

  12. Totally agree with this! Every track on Peng! is flawless.