When I first started listening to this album I was on a summer running kick, and Stereolab’s sprightly tunes provided the perfect rhythm for a sunny jog. Those memories of vainly trying to get into better shape come back to me now as I listen to these songs while lazing on the couch.
The London group has always had a knack for wonderful and fitting song titles, and Chemical Chords continues that trend to a T. Just sample a few: “One Finger Symphony,” a shuffling combination of lo-bit rhythms, synths, guitars and French lyrics from singer Lætitia Sadier; “Valley Hi!,” which starts with an off kilter Magnetic Fields vibe before accelerating into a highway ride finale; and “Pop Molecule [Molecular Pop 1],” a slightly noisier number that helps wipe the palate clean around the album’s halfway mark.
It may have been unfair to only give this album a listen while running, because that meant I was usually done (and exhausted) before getting to the final songs, which do not pitter off like the strength in my legs. Closer “Vortical Phonotheque” is a particularly great 3-minute finale.
Overall, Chemical Chords is a consistent record, with Stereolab conducting melodic “experiments” in a controlled L-R setting. Their songs bubble like bright test tubes, sometimes flashing and smoking, but never really threatening to explode.