Since Stereolab have been on an “indefinite hiatus” since 2009, the closest thing their loyal fans are likely to receive from the band’s camp is a record from their nominal lead singer Laetitia Sadier. But just like her solo debut, 2010’s The Trip, and perhaps even more so, this is not a Stereolab record. Sure, there are occasional electronic flourishes and injections of their trademark busy, caffeine-addled rhythmic intricacy throughout, but this is clearly Sadier’s show. The focus is on the French chanteuse’s unaffected but gorgeous mezzo-soprano and with few exceptions, the instrumentation and percussion is minimal to a fault.
Lyrically, Sadier covers quite a few bases. On her meditation on the “tyranny of money,” “Auscultation to the Nation,” she wonders: “Who are these people, and why on earth do we care about their opinions?” Dismissing the authority of the banking industry and organizations like the G20, she argues that “we want a real democracy” before the bare-bones track concludes in a cacophony of static.
Unlike its minimalist predecessor, the following song, “There is a Price to Pay for Freedom (and it isn’t Security) is cloaked in lush strings and anthemic instrumentation, but she continues to make her political perspective clear (or at least attempts to), with lines like: “follower of conformity that we do identify with a reflection in merchandise.” OK, so this is not exactly lyrical poetry, but the swelling and rich musical tapestry almost lets her get away with it.
Under “about the record” on her label’s website, Drag City, it says simply: It’s 2012 — do you know where your government is tonight? Occupy yourselves — and let’s get busy with the music in our minds.” So it’s clear that Sadier is trying to bridge the collective mindset with individual minds. Perhaps she’s picking up the gauntlet left to rust by the break-up of anarcho-pop group Chumbawamba.
From the political back to the personal, “Moi Sans Zach,” (“Me Without Zach”) is sung entirely in French, and despite the fact that the only French I know is “please,” “hello,” “goodbye” and where is the toilet?,” this seems to be a far more personal meditation, spoken over a musical bed borrowed from “The Girl From Ipanema.” Her conclusion? Apparently that it’s “complex.”
By contrast, as one might imagine from the title, “Between Earth And Heaven” is far more musically ambitious, although it still mines that Latin American vibe. Sadier successfully melds the abstract with the specific on this number and the next, “Lightning Bolt.”
On Silencio, a big plus is the dynamic pacing. Just when the record seems to be nodding off in a somnambulant haze, an invigorating and propulsive track comes up in the running order, like the (comparatively) rocketing “Fragment pour le future de l’homme” (which is sung in English, its title notwithstanding). In fact, if there’s any criticism to be leveled at this record, it might be that it’s too fragmented. When listened to in its entirety, it comes across as a hop-scotch of sorts, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable exercise. It’s so scattershot, in fact, that when a track like “Merci de m’avoir donné la vie” is allowed to expand and grow, it’s a welcome mechanism. It’s also helpful that Sadier alternates songs sung/spoken in her native French with those rendered in English, so as to mix things up a bit.
It’s easy to imagine seeing these songs performed on a small stage in a smoke-filled club in Morocco in some anonymous film noir.
On the concluding track, “Invitation au Silence,” she shares a revelation that came to her in a church in the south of France. Her spoken word introduction is translated partially as “churches have remarkable acoustics; even silence can swell and be amplified.” Sadier invites her audience to “sample some silence in this St. Blaise church . . . Listen how resonant with truth silence is.” With that, the last ninety seconds or so is indeed complete silence, with the occasional ambient noise to be heard in the background. While given the title, it might seem to be an appropriate introduction to Silencio, in fact it provides the perfect conclusion, and bookends the music with an appropriately meditative coda. Laetitia Sadier is trafficking in what she defines as truth, and the end result is an enjoyable if highly varied experience.
Laetitia Saedier – Silencio tracklist:
- “The Rule of the Game”
- “Find Me the Pulse of the Universe”
- “Silent Spot”
- “Auscultation to the Nation”
- “There Is a Price to Pay for Freedom (and It Isn’t Security)”
- “Moi Sans Zach”
- “Between Earth and Heaven”
- “Lightning Thunderbolt”
- “Fragment pour le future de l’homme”
- “Merci de m’avoir donné la vie”
- “Next Time You See Me”
- “Invitation au silence”