Not Music
Drag City

After nearly 20 years in the game, Stereolab is a brand that you can trust. They are one of the few bands identifiable the instant you hear them. The blend of Krautrock, ’60s lounge pop and indie rock, as well as a love for vintage electronics, gives them a sonic stamp that’s uniquely them. Sure, the early records might have been lumped into the lounge revival of the time, but Stereolab was never retro-leaning. With an eye towards the future and a sly sense of humor, the band always seemed to exist in its own universe. Over the course of the last two decades, they’ve pumped out a heroic amount of music, so it was slightly surprising when the band decided to go on an official hiatus in 2009. And even more surprising just a year later that Not Music, a new album, has appeared.

As it turns out, it was not a Jay-Z fake retirement thing, and Not Music is not an album of new material, instead consisting of songs leftover from the Chemical Cords sessions in 2008, as well as three remixes of songs from that album. But it’s not just odds and ends scraped from the cutting-room floor. Not Music is as fully realized as any other Stereolab album.

In many ways Not Music could serve as a fitting swan song (if Stereolab decides to go that route) or an excellent primer to the band. Laetia Sadier’s vocals are equal parts hypnotizing, inviting and obtuse. It almost doesn’t matter what she’s singing as the songs bubble and pop with an infectious energy. The balance this time leans toward the poppier keyboard side of things, but there is some guitar moments to dirty up the proceedings. Even when pushing the running time on “Silver Sands (Emperor Machine Mix)” to 10 minutes, they make it seem like five by switching it up, the track starting out as a typical Stereolab song before shifting to an Italian disco number. The only cut that doesn’t work is the closer, “Neon Beanbag (Atlas Sound Mix),” which is far too somber, minimalist and slow-moving compared to the rest of the record. But despite Stereolab’s faux misgivings, this record is undoubtedly music.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “Sun Demon”

The Greenhornes
Third Man

Is it tongue-in-cheek or presumptuous to give your own album ★★★★? While the title of the Greenhornes’ first full-length album since 2002’s Dual Mono raises the expectation bar high—but interestingly not five-star high—so do the high-profile projects of the band members in the interim. Bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler formed the Raconteurs with Jack White and Brendan Benson, while Lawrence also plays with the Dead Weather, with White, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Alison Mosshart of the Kills.

This time around, someone’s taken a Shop Vac to the Cincinnati garage where Lawrence, Keeler and vocalist and guitarist Craig Fox have stored their bluesy retro-rock. But while the sound on the album is a bit more polished and the riffs are cleaner than on Dual Mono, songs like the meandering “Cave Drawings” and “Go Tell Henry,” which ebbs and swells as Fox sings about “running from the shadows of the moon,” are still rooted in ’60s psychedelia. But where once the Greenhornes pulled from American influences, songs like the guitar-driven “Need Your Love” and stomping “Jacob’s Ladder” are more evocative of British Invaders like the Troggs and the Animals.

Though the Greenhornes don’t have as much of a dirty raw sound as previous albums, their amps are still plugged into an outlet in a ’60s garage. Naming the record ★★★★ ends up not being funny or cocky, but fairly honest, as straightforward and complimentary as the Greenhornes’ output.
Josie Rubio

Cee Lo Green
The Lady Killer

It’s good to have you back, Cee Lo. As fascinating as it was to hear the thunderous soul singer work out his mental instabilities as Gnarls Barkley, I much prefer Cee Lo the lover to Cee Lo the headcase. On The Ladykiller, he gets his Otis Redding and his Al Green on, serenading the pants off listeners like a secret military raygun designed to neutralize enemy soldiers by getting them to all have sex with each other.

But The Ladykiller is more than just hot tubs and strawberry condoms. This is no mere irony-laden hump-a-thon like Beck’s Midnite Vultures, and it also doesn’t turn sensuality into silliness the way Andre 3000 did on The Love Below. Instead,The Lady Killer is a soulful, serious piece of throwback pleasures.

The bitter, hilarious single “Fuck You” has gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so. But for most of the album, Cee Lo plays the starstruck lover and not the jilted victim. On the symphonic disco track “Wildflower,” he puts as much emphasis on holding and smelling his lady as he does on placing her body on the table R. Kelly–style. And on the album’s finest moment, the smooth and rapturous “I Want You,” he professes his love to a girl who’s smart, sexy, fun, fearless, and basically every other adjective you would use to describe your special lady friend.

One complaint of neo-soul is that there’s nothing really “neo” about it, with most artists channeling their inner Redding or Green or Mayfield without actually adding a modern spin to the music. And while Cee Lo is guilty of this on The Ladykiller, it’s easy to forgive him. I get the sense that if Cee Lo was around in the ’70s competing with the classic soul men and women he’s emulating, he’d have no problem winning an audience.
David Holmes

Gregory and the Hawk

I’ve become slightly weary of bands named after animals. All the bears and wolves, as well as Noah and the Whale, Cat Power, Caribou, Tortoise, and even Modest Mouse are thrust into the same small crevice of my brain. Surely they’ve all got their own merits and panache, but that does nothing to abate my mind’s proclivity to lump, not based on genre or relative enjoyment level, but by name. (Linnaeus would be so proud.) New animal bands may be passe, but, if there’s one that deserves to be added to the animal kingdom of music, it’s Gregory and the Hawk, the pseudonym of singer-songwriter, Meredith Godreau, who adopted the nickname in the first place to avoid being pigeonholed as another female singer-songwriter and all the preconceived notions that come along with the title. Yet, her most recent studio album finds her starting to embrace this role.

Leche is Gregory and the Hawk’s third full-length release since the 2007 debut, In Your Dreams, and comparatively, the music has come a long way. While the first album heard Godreau focusing primarily on acoustic guitar, Leche, like its predecessor, Moenie and Kitchi, is teeming with instrumental variety (thanks in part to friend and fellow FatCat labelmate, Adam Pierce of Mice Parade). The album begins with the sweetly earnest and earnestly sweet, “For the Best,” whose lyrics recall the honest, oft-mundane observations of mid-90s Jewel. This chirpy song sets the tone for the rest of the album, which meanders like a magic spring from one ethereal childlike melody to the next. There are some slightly more substantive tunes along the way, including the pillowy ballad, “Soulgazing,” but most lean on Godreau’s plucky guitar and quirky, puerile vocals. This mantra may work for wood nymphs like Joanna Newsom, but without that same substance and with the voice of a sultry eight-year old (or a diluted Kazu Makino), some of Godreau’s songs tend to meld together. Those that work, though, really work, like the ornate guitar plucking and gently somber strings on “Landscapes,” the punctuated drums and breathy chorus on “Over and Over,” and the haunting delicacy of “Frebreight.” (Notice a pattern here?) The superlative moment on this album, however, is actually the whimsical twee-folk ditty, “Olly Olly Oxen Free,” which for sheer kitsch factor, practically begs to be featured in quirky movie trailers for seasons to come. While the rest of the album may not be as strong, there’s more than enough here to separate Gregory and the Hawk from the pack.
Jennifer Farmer

El Ten Eleven
It’s Still Like a Secret

El Ten Eleven has a ton of cool gear. Kristian Dunn plays the bass and guitar and a big ol’ bank of pedals. The bass guitar is connected to the guitar, Jimmy Page double-neck style, except instead of a twelve-string electric and a six-string electric on one giant body, it has a four-string electric bass with a six-string electric guitar. No human can play both at the same time, so Dunn uses a phalanx of effects pedals to beef up his sound, at least two of which are looping pedals. This means he can jam a sweet riff on the bass neck, loop it with the electronics, and then play along with himself on the guitar neck. Or whatever he wants. On It’s Still Like A Secret, he seems to mostly want to lay down a cool dance bassline, something that wouldn’t be out of place seven years ago on the DFA label, then hack a high-pitched melody out on the guitar. He’s even got a Moog pedal in there that makes the bass sound weird, especially on the song “Indian Winter.”

Mostly, the band sounds like Don Cabellero when you take into account the drummer. His name is Tim Fogarty and he plays Ludwig Vistalite drums, which are just like Bohnam’s in The Song Remains the Same and like the clear ones Seb from Trans Am plays. He also plays electronic drums that make the beats sound like MGMT or the Rapture at its most disco-esque. Nobody sings. Instrumental indie-rocking can lead to some dull, masturbatory, musicians-only type of 10-minute long crap that’s almost shameful to get into and rarely rewarding afterwards. Luckily for El Ten Eleven, they put their awesome gear to good use and keep the songs quick and to the point. Instead of beating it till it’s bloody, on songs like the title track, they come at it nice and hard, build the hooks skillfully but without pretension, then resolve them into the climax and clean up tidily before moving on to the next song. The album title may or may not be a reference to Built to Spill’s fourth album, though drawing connections between the two bands is difficult. There’s a song here titled “Ian Mackaye Was Right,” which just may be a response to the eighth song on Keep It Like a Secret, “You Were Right,” in which Doug Martsch lists old rockers’ lyrics (i.e. “You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall”). But then any connection is way more convoluted than the whole of It’s Still Like a Secret.
Michael O’Shaughnessy