Laetitia Sadier, most well known for her presence in Stereolab, is a vocalist and musician who has always inspired respect and a sense of wonder among her fans. The new album, Something Shines, continues to offer an artistic space unlike any other. A constant theme has been the works of Guy Debord and the Situationists, and there are allusions to this on the new album. A short explanation of him might include a description of a melancholy pessimist, who was a central figure of engagement with cultural politics. It could be a description of Sadier here as well.
Influential but underrated is the banner of those few musicians who have a sound that is all their own, and seem to be made up of parts that perhaps are imperfectly understood even by themselves. Stereolab, strangely enduring, always on the fringes but always there, was one of those bands, and this album, the third completely solo venture by Laetitia Sadier since the breakup, ventures further while still remaining familiar to those who have all the old albums. The voice! There, ever distinctive, it follows its own path. More than just favoring odd pronunciation, she seems to recognize the idiosyncratic nature of speech, emphasizes it. It has the odd effect of disassociating you from words you thought were eternally familiar. It’s not a big leap to imagine that this could be the desired effect on one level – to disturb, to encourage unease and surprise. Yet on another level, there is nothing that unusual here, with jazz-tinged moments that wouldn’t be out of place in an Antonioni film from the 1960s, all eyeliner, mysterious symbolism, and drifting story. But then out of nowhere erupts emotion that catapults you into a mood, taste and smell and vision. Sadier makes it look so easy; you wonder what all the people whining about finding an authentic voice are on about. Her music is an antidote to everything that has as its only goal the top of the pops, disposable music for a consumer culture, designed to shock, tease, and finally bore us into the next purchase.
These songs are completely different, and demonstrate her ability to build a landscape that isn’t banging you over the head with a vision or an incessant need to stand out. It’s inclusive, inviting you to engage, while undeniably individual. The very first song, Quantum Soup, is a mix of electronic sound, watery effects, with a guitar that brings you back. The words “la magie” ring out. Yes, there is something magical about this. The Scene of the Lie stirs in a buzzing guitar line, while keyboards meander, adding vocal harmony in the background, before it all slows down and starts moving together. Spectacular is the first word, and the French lyric explains the nature of the spectacle. The words through the entire album speak of politics and philosophy, unapologetic and unvarnished. Butter Side Up sounds a little like the dark moodiness of The Doves, and weaves in “looking for treasure” and “arcane poetry”.
Life Is Winning is a contrast between the simplicity of a guitar strumming and the more complicated chorus of vocals and organ. It mentions the potential of nuclear end before wishing finally “Je veux mourir de joie” – I want to die from/of joy – instead of the shame of self-destruction. It seems like a song that observes, wistfully, without irony, what faces us, and our choices, and perhaps is a fitting end to an album that asks us to participate in art, not in expectations or false choices.