Switched On – Stereolab: Pulse of the Early Brain (Switched On, Vol. 5) (Warp Records)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The latest – and possibly last – in Stereolab’s Switched On compilation series brings together a range of projects from the 1990s and 2000s, tying up a number of odds and ends.

Two of the tracks (Robot Riot and Unity Purity Occasional) were written for sculptures made by Charles Long. The song for the latter, to quote the band, ‘is channeled through three tubes that simultaneously blow the visitors’ hands dry with warm jets of air’.

Other titbits and rarities include the limited edition Symbolic Logic Of Now!, XXXOOO from 1992, and a track for a Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra compilation album (Blaue Milch).

The biggest feature of the album, however, is the double collaboration between Stereolab and Nurse With Wound from 1997. Lasting 40 minutes, these two longform works were released on coloured vinyl.

What’s the music like?

This is a really enjoyable set of miscellaneous musical treasures, for as we have learned in the previous releases there is barely such a thing as a Stereolab cast-off that isn’t worth listening to.

The extended Nurse With Wound collaborations are especially rewarding. Simple Headphone Mind trips along nicely with enjoyable squiggles, and leads into Trippin’ With The Birds, adopting the same key but utilising an even more experimental approach. There is lots of electronic trickery, the birds making themselves known in a variety of different and imaginative ways.

The collection is well-sequenced, moving backwards and forwards between the earliest material of 1992 and the more dense offerings of later years. The Low Fi EP is a lot of fun, varoom! starting with a driving beat and typically sonorous vocal from Laetitia Sadier and disappearing in white noise. Laisser-faire has a more communal vocal, set back in the mix from the big beats, while Elektro [he held the world in his iron grip] gets some wonderfully woozy electronics together.

ABC feels especially low-fi, with a grubby riff, while Robot Riot is excellent. We don’t hear so much on the vocal front from Laetitia Sadier in particular on this compilation, but we have never heard her voice in the way it appears after Autechre have finished with it. Their remix of Refractions In The Plastic Pulse is an out of body experience, a dislocated vocal married to some particularly busy beats.

Does it all work?

It does, though this collection does now feel like a set of assortments given that these are seemingly the last remaining rarities to be hovered up and collected in the corner together.

Is it recommended?

It is – certainly to completists of the band. Those new to the treasures of Stereolab might want to pick up earlier on in the series, but are advised that this is still an extremely worthwhile addition to the collection.

Listen and Buy

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