Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Annoucements - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Annoucements

by Steve Rhodes Rating:9 Release Date:2019-05-03
Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Annoucements
Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Annoucements

Arguably the gateway to Krautrock for a new generation, Stereolab took their influences and ran with them over a long and distinguished career, whilst retaining their own identity and being wonderfully stubborn, sloganistic (especially in their defiant lyrics) and forward-thinking for the duration. With a timely reunion announcement after more than a decade's hiatus the band are re-issuing a large number of their back catalogue and within that arguably their greatest album, their awkwardly-titled sophomore release Transient Random Noise Burst With Announcements. Following their fledgling beginnings of their industrious but somewhat primitively sounding Peng and their multitude of single releases, all compiled on the excellent Switched On compilation, TRNBWA is a more experimental and progressive release that continues their appreciation of Neu, especially in the motorik drumming and monotone guitars, but expands their sounds vastly touching on 60s psychedelia, easy-listening, exotica and experimental noise, whilst remaining faithful to their use of analogue synths, keys and machines,

A multi-layered organ, Farfisa and chorded guitars weave their magic on 'Tone Burst', as a simple drum pattern pushes along an upbeat and busy opener. A sweet and sultry song, with Laetitia's Sadier's French-language vocals at the forefront, relegates the initially busy instrumentation to the background, leading to a lullaby-esque tone, especially where Laetitia's la-la-la vocals are succinctly complimented by Mary Hansen's backing. Tim Gane's guitar begins to make more of an impact but doesn't overwhelm the backing. Carnival-sounding in its hypnotism and kaleidoscopic tones, with a touch of late 60's psychedelia, more in atmosphere and feel than anything specific, sums up Stereolab's stance by looking towards European rather than British or American influences, finishing with a long extended harmonious outro, which is only slightly let down by an occasional uneven mix in the sound.

'Our Trinitone Blast' exhibits the band's experimental leanings, as distorted vocals, a maudlin organ, high-end bass and pattered drumming, are central to the sound. But it's the regular drop-out of the instrumentation that really makes the track, as clear beautiful vocals are just paired with light, tapered percussion and glistening guitar. The track continues to divide itself between the two tones, with the distorted vocals eventually appearing in both refrains, before the drums accelerate and the trebly guitar textures navigate the track, losing the audibility of the voice, becoming more a sound enhancement than a vocal.

'Pack Yr Romantic Mind' instantly lifts the density of the record. Summary and sultry dominated by Tim's chiming guitar and backed by a major-key organ, Laetitia's vocals are warm and welcoming, especially when Mary's beautiful backing enters the fray. The song takes an about-turn as guitars briefly distort and impose more directly, before returning to the set position. A great demonstration of how Stereolab can patch so many different melodies and colourisation together, but still have a wonderful cohesiveness to their tracks.

Nodding to the instrumentation on their earlier releases 'I'm Going Out Of My Way' has a heavy fuzzed organ, chorded guitars and linear drums at their centre, feeling akin at times to Yo La Tengo, especially when Laetitia' vocal is set back into the mix. A wistful track that feels more open and relaxed, which they would adopt, minus the fuzziness, in future albums, as they often took a more a lounge-influenced direction.

In complete contrast 'Golden Ball' is subdued and dronier, with atonal guitars and heavier bass, but with deep sustained notes. The vocals are deeply distorted at first, sounding like they've been recorded on a mic'd up 70s cassette recorder, resembling a sedated Iggy Pop, eventually becoming clearer, like AM radio turning into FM. The introduction of an organ seems to awaken the track as it slowly begins to increase in tempo, more like Gorky's Zygotic Mynci in their ragged, early output, but still maintains a dark atmosphere as the song becomes busier and denser in its speedy close.

'Pause' perhaps sums up the shifting ambiance of the album, as German-language samples channelled through a radio transmission opens proceedings before a deeply-melodious organ takes centre stage and Mary and Laetitia's dual vocals ache dreaminess in a spacious and beautiful song, becoming more hypnotic as Tim's guitar notes increase with frequency. A drum machine makes a sudden appearance and the vocals become even more mantric, as the German samples enter the back of the track and joined by French-language samples in the other channel. Not finishing there, a deeply distorted guitar takes over the outro, with just la-la-la vocals for brief company. A brilliant multi-faceted track that's happy to evolve throughout and with no section sticking around too long.

Perhaps as its EP was overshadowed by the inclusion of arguably Stereolab's breakthrough 'French Disko', 'Jenny Ondioline' has often remained overlooked. Here, in all of its expanded 18 minute glory, it is a triumphant representation of the band at their insistent best. Split into two distinct, but not disconnected parts, the first is an expanded version of the single. Harking back to their earlier material, this is Stereolab at their Neu-influenced peak, but with a more expansive sound and fuller production. Motorik drum beats, repetitive guitars that glide over the song in an uncomplicated fashion, a simple bass line, reverbed guitar buried in the background and a sanguine vocal, the song propels along unhurriedly, with just minor deviations and the occasional descending refrain. It is a gloriously hypnotic track that latches onto your senses, locking you in tight and leading you into an other-worldly journey, away from troubles and whatnot. The temperature changes about 8 minutes in, feeling more direct, the instrumentation and vocals are more forceful, but still retains a motorik and woozy vibe. There is a brief 'freakout' moment where the song seems to collapse in on itself as the electronics wobble and the drums seem to be teetering on the brink, like a train hurtling at speed towards a line-ending buffer, before the song takes a more serene, space-rock approach at the close.

Sticking to its literal meaning 'Analogue Rock' pays compliment by changing lead channels in its output, dropping its fuzzed organ and spikier bass in its lead channel for an abrasive guitar in its alternate channel, before returning to its default stance. The rather abstract chorus uses deeply electronically-treated, high-pitch vocals, continuing the lyrical theme from the combative previous tracks “see you on battlefield, when we go through the mill”. Possibly the weakest track on the album as it's unfortunately sandwiched between two great dominant tracks more than anything else, it still packs a punch, albeit a softer one.

The star of the show 'Crest' is a glorious lesson in simplicity. A rollicking guitar riff, a joyous ascending bass line, haunted organ keys, and a stoic, but ultimately glass half-full lyric “if there's been a way to build up, there'll be a way to destroy it, things are not all that out of control”, building to a frenetic finale, it is an absolute joy from start to finish. It got a new lease of life when its chugging riff was sampled as the mainstay of Gold Chains' 'Rock di Parti', referencing having Stereolab on stage as his back-up band, though clearly, no collaboration was ever likely to be on the cards.

Building on the outro from the end of 'Pause', album closer 'Lock Groove Lullaby' takes those elements on layers on its initial decayed and atonal beginnings. The vocals appear dispirited at first but become lighter and warmer as the track develops. An unusual choice to close an album, it feels a little congested at times but weaves a challenging path, but still possesses moments of beauty and a whirling psychotropic and playful finish.

As well as the album in full, this re-release is jam-packed with extras, with 3 different segments of 'Jenny Ondioline' including the compact 7” EP version, demo and alternative versions of the Transient tracks, two early/demo versions of 'French Disko', which nicely showcase its novice beginnings before it became the tour-de-force it has become, an interesting 50 second track 'Fragments' which mixes bits of the album and a very rough segment of 'French Disko', and an intriguing demo of Jenny Ondioline EP track 'Fruition', which strips all of the sound effects and noises down leading to just vocals and acoustic guitar.

Though their later albums, such as Mars Audiac Quintet and Empire Tomato Ketchup, often take the critical plaudits, it's difficult to underestimate how important a record Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements was when it appeared late in 1993. A unique record that contrasted with the mood of the times, where Britpop was starting to push its intent as a backlash to all things grunge that had fixated the press for the previous couple of years, TRNBWA seemed alien and ethereal. A giant progression from (their still excellent) previous releases, TRNBWA is their pinnacle statement, an innovative, ambitious and exciting album that not only brought their Germanic and French-pop influences into the open, but was hugely influential on many acts that did not want to conform to the music paper narratives at the time, and one that completely stands the test of time.

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