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Sunday, April 11, 2004




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With their Francophone vocalist and doctrinaire allegiance to analog synthesizers, Stereolab tread a fine line between arty brilliance and frothy silliness. The Marxist proselytizers who emerged on their early albums have evolved into lounge aesthetes who still know a rock tune when they play it. Tim Gane sometimes gets carried away with the experiments, and his Etch-a-Sketch melodies have a habit of fading into the background when he loads on the effects.

The group's overall sound has mellowed, but it's also become more satisfying. Their latest album, "Margerine Eclipse," is a consistently bouncy, uptempo collection. Dedicated to keyboardist Mary Hansen, who died a few years ago in a bicycle accident, the record celebrates her memory with a party: Most of the songs open in a relaxed mood and end in a blaze of tuneful energy. "Your spirit lives," coos Laetitia Sadier while the band cruises effortlessly down a superhighway of sleek synth loops, "you spread the seed of love." Even the dialectics, which in the past often sounded like ironic comments on the future-is-past musical ideas, feel more connected to the songs. Dancing is still the best way to heal . . . and start revolutions.

Stereolab: May 8 & 9, 7 p.m., Shibuya Club Quattro, Tokyo (Smash, [03] 3444-6751); May 10, 7 p.m., Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka (Smash West, [06] 6535-5569). 6,000 yen advance.

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