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Ever wonder what the Jayhawks could have done with a little more post-punk grit and better looking band members, or how much livelier Wilco would sound if they just picked up the tempo on occasion, or how much better the Gin Blossoms would be if they grew some brains, learned how to rock and stored away the sappy, predictable sentiments? The Hollowbodies have a pretty good idea. Lame, the group's major-label debut, manages to be a lot of things -- lo-fi and well-crafted, heartfelt and frivolous, unique and derivative, catchy and cacophonous, rootsy and modern, irritating and irresistible, maudlin and fun -- and often all at once. So while the Hollowbodies may be a handful at times, they quite obviously aren't lame. Unless, of course, someone has jiggered the dictionary definition of that word to include "damn fine" as a synonym. (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Stereolab
Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Elektra

What follows is an argument as to why, based on its latest CD, Stereolab is, pound for pound, the greatest groop (their spelling) currently operating on this overpopulated planet.

You want retro? Get a load of this equipment, from the vintage Farfisa and Vox organs to the ever-lovable Moog synthesizers. You want futurist? Put together, it's the sound of not-so-well-oiled machinery, churning and sputtering into space-age bachelor pad heaven and post-industrial hell.

You want pure pop? Dig how they mine the mod sounds of the '60s, from Burt Bacharach ("Emperor Tomato Ketchup") to Francoise Hardy ("Slow Fast Hazel"). You want avant-garde? Check the blatant liftings from '70s kraut-rockers Neu! and Can, plus the appropriations of Philip Glass' disjointed wordplay ("Motoroller Scalatron") and Ornette Coleman's jagged alto sax ("Percolator").

You want meaning? These songs are loaded with optimism, progressivism, humanism and dashes of Marxism. You want nonsense? There's plenty of la-la-las to lead us into oblivion, and anyway, head vocalist Laetitia Sadier sings in French half the time.

You want a groove band? Tracks such as "Metronomic Underground" and "Les Yper-Sound" cast a funk trance heavier than voodoo, and they're at least as danceable as any neo-hippie tripe. You want a band that rocks? Try "The Noise of Carpet" for its rug-burning guitar and acceleration drum whacks.

Yesterday, tomorrow, now: Stereolab's the one. (****)
-- Roni Sarig

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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