Stereolab have stuck with Chicago-based producers John McEntire and Jim O’Rourke since they first came to the city to record their 1996 release, Emperor Tomato Ketchup. But the third album to come out of the relationship, 1999’s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, suggested that it might be time to try somebody new. It sounded beautiful, and embedded in the usual dense dots and loops were some new twists–a touch of bebop on “Fuses,” the robotic breathlessness of “Strobo Acceleration.” But few of the tunes were memorable; songwriting seemed to have taken a backseat to instrumental fussiness. Nonetheless, the band returned to McEntire’s studio to record the new Sound-Dust, in separate sessions with McEntire and O’Rourke. I had low expectations when I went to see them this summer at the Montreal Jazz Festival, but they sounded genuinely reinvigorated–the new material was as strong as anything in their massive oeuvre, and seemed to energize the old stuff. On the album, although Stereolab aren’t doing much that’s genuinely new, they’ve rediscovered the splendor of a great melody. As always, the vocal harmonies are absolutely weightless, and the arrangements are a spectral blitz of keyboards–piano, pianet, electric piano, Clavinet, Wurlitzer, Farfisa, electric harpsichord, Rocksichord–underlined by muted elegant brass. A regular horde of Chicagoans helped execute them, including cornetist Rob Mazurek, trumpeter Dave “Max” Crawford, trombonist Jeb Bishop, flutist Paul Mertens, percussionists Glenn Kotche and Chad Taylor, and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen. But even without all of these enhancements, the core sextet–with Dominic Jeffreys replacing longtime keyboardist Morgane Lhote–can bring out the sharpness of the new tunes. The French pop band Fugu, whose Fugu 1 (Minty Fresh) features a cameo by the Lab’s Laetitia Sadier, opens. Wednesday, October 31, 9 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.