One of indie rock's most consistent and compelling outfits for more than a decade, Stereolab has finally taken its place alongside the underground's most venerable elder statesmen. And if the growing frequency with which Stereolab tracks appear in commercials is any barometer of this band's appeal, the times are now catching up to its forward-looking aesthetic. Luckily, Stereolab has the staying power to reap the rewards of its stature, and songwriting couple Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier have borne their responsibilities well, nurturing like-minded upstarts on their own Duophonic label.

But after pushing the envelope with a string of challenging and dazzlingly eclectic albums in the mid-1990s, Stereolab has settled into a comfortable groove, both musically and career-wise. It's surprising when a new Stereolab release doesn't do much to raise the creative stakes. Sound-Dust mostly fine-tunes the easy-listening direction Stereolab has been headed in ever since 1997's Dots and Loops, taking the edge off the group's bolder, more aggressive material. Though by all means pleasant and well conceived, gossamer soundscapes like "Baby Lulu" and "The Black Arts" are only variations on a theme that the quintet mastered long ago. Likewise, the jazzisms of "Gus the Mynah Bird" and the Bacharach redux of "Naught More Terrific Than Man" make the special effects of Stereolab's space-age bachelor-pad music seem old hat.

Nevertheless, a band as restlessly inventive as Stereolab can't help but experiment with ways to revise and revitalize what are now familiar sounds. The country refrains of "Captain Easychord" offer an unexpected change of pace, while the breezy groove of "Nothing to Do with Me" finds the group straying closer to funk than Kraut-rock for the first time. Maybe the changes aren't so drastic and obvious this time around, but they still provide a nice reminder that Stereolab's unique approach to pop always promises more to come.


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