Switched On – Stereolab: Electrically Possessed [Switched On Volume 4] – Warp Records / Duophonic UHF Disks

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Stereolab fans tend to be completists, and with good reason. The long running, much-loved band have taken line-up changes and relationships in their stride to be well-known for the consistency of their output. In recent years a housekeeping exercise on the back catalogue has yielded three excellent Switched On volumes, gathering together the band’s extra-curricular tracks, EPs and album-avoiding singles. Volume four of the Switched On collection goes further, a complement to the deluxe album reissues made over the last couple of years. Being a Stereolab fan is an expensive business, but a worthwhile one it seems!

What’s the music like?

As seasoned fans will know, there is something immediately appealing about the Stereolab sound, giving off a comforting warmth. Yet this is never comfortable music, for the spirit of experimentation runs strong, especially in tracks where there are no constraints or boundaries.

Most of the tracks here are instrumental, but they give the listener an opportunity to revel in the sound the band make. Lovely warm keyboards often spill over into Krautrock-inspired riffing, while on occasion there is a lovely cool marimba (Intervals) or the friendly parp of a trombone (Free Witch And No Bra Queen, a track where two simultaneous loops wander out of phase in entertaining fashion). This track also has some deliciously clashing harmonies from the multi-tracked vocals of Laetitia Sadlier.

The vibraphone and trombone-powered groove of Outer Bongolia is rather wonderful, the listener able to bask in the sounds, while Laetitia’s vocalise at the end of Intervals goes nicely with the marimba. I Feel The Air (Of Another Planet) is a beatless wonder with a nice strings / Hammond organ combination, while other highlights include the perky keyboards of Solar Throw-Away (the original version) and the breezy loop powering The Super It. B.U.A is enjoyably far out, while the best riff – among strong competition – goes to Dimension M2, burning a bright light.

Another talent the band has is somehow finding a funky turn for some pretty obscure time signatures. L’exotisme Interieur is the best of these, a track set in 7/4 but still getting the feet tapping.

Does it all work?

Yes. Electrically Possessed may not be an album as such but it is arranged in a satisfying program, so that its 27 tracks never outstay their welcome. The spirit of invention runs through it, and with a consistently high quality threshold it is very rare to get the sense the band are coasting or not fully focussed. In other bands’ outputs the scraps from the cutting room floor should be just that, but in Stereolab’s case the offcuts are well worth hearing and a pleasure to listen to.

Is it recommended?

Very much so – to Stereolab completists but also to relative newcomers to the band. These tracks may not all be fully formed but they are stamped throughout with the familiar identity of breezy funk, experimentation, offbeat rhythms and warm, beguiling sounds. It is a lovely collection to get lost in.

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