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From The Vault: Stereolab - “Peng!” (1992)


Asking a dear friend what he found most compelling about Stereolab, his favorite band, he replied, “They manage to aggregate all of the favorite things I find in underground and pop music, they are totally modern, yet retro in their relentless use of elements both in music, and with musical instruments.” I must say that I couldn’t agree more, so with that in mind, I’m beginning at the beginning with my first Stereolab review … Peng!.

The title of the band’s first proper album Peng!, is a German onomatopoeia for a loud bang or pop, where the word phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests that sound that it describes, and with that reference I must suggest that musically Stereolab do not go ‘pop’ or even ‘peng’ on this album in any manner other than the impression of exaltation the listener derives. Peng! is a hypnotic bit of modish psychedelic lo-fi pop, that does not require the use of chemical enhancements, as a matter of fact, it’s best felt with all of the consciously open receptors one can muster. I remember reading somewhere, and it’s stayed with me, that the Kinks proved that one needed more than three chords, while the Velvet Underground proved that only two were necessary, and then came Stereolab, who leveled the playing field, firmly establishing that if done correctly, one chord is all that’s needed.


I was instantly struck with how brilliant Peng! was, and then lamented that I hadn’t been clued in on the secret back in 1992, as during those years I was still shattered over the crash of Galaxie 500, and filled with anticipation at the coming of Luna. Regardless, Stereolab do have their influences, blending a new sort of drifting hazy intellectual lounge music, traveling the same path through the deep woods as Spacemen 3, and delivering bits and pieces strung together as reference points from the psychedelic fuzzed out droning past, traveling at a steady pace, one that’s emotionally ambivalent, hypnotic, though without getting lost in the haze of shoegazer angst, being just adventurous enough to be invigorating, yet dreamy enough to induce an elemental intoxication of delight. 

Using vintage instrumentations, including a Mellotron, Stereolab redefined the nature of experimental music, creating an almost surrealistic cloud of sound filled with tight harmonies, droning guitars, and bouncy melodies that are almost sinister with their ability to draw you in, unlacing compositions that feel recognizable in their sweetness, existing in the here and now, as well as from a half forgotten part of your mind that finds these songs able to float with anonymity, instantly feeling both comfortable and comforting in the same ethereal breath.

One could easily suggest that Stereolab are overly and overtly intellectual, perhaps too studious and detached, as many said when they first heard The Talking Heads … though I don’t hear that. What I do hear is rich in texture and composition, alive and visionary, translucent and solid as a brick wall … all songs that weave me pleasurably into a state of hiatus, where reality is redefined, a welcomed open door, and now that I’m deep inside, my hopes are high for the future of this adventure.

- Jenell Kesler
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