Depending on how charitable you want to be, Stereolab’s musical base can be described as either an extended homage to or a direct pilfering of the droning, rubber-band pulse of the German electronic group Neu. I go with the former, because that pulse is just one of the components of the band’s gorgeous, intriguing sound. Stereolab adds an amused, articulate bass, a palpably real drum track, and an assortment of oddly human ancient keyboards and synthesizers overseen by Tim Gane. The affectless voice of Laetitia Sadier–who sings sometimes nonsense, sometimes in French, and as often as not both–is layered on top. The result is a surprisingly emotional machine music. On albums like Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, the band flirted with the new wave of musical kitschmeisters who find endless amusement in the feckless attempts of the past to predict the sound of the future. But with last year’s major-label debut, Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, and the new Mars Audiac Quintet, Stereolab transcends such adolescent concerns for a unique amalgam of philosophical commitment and pop smarts. “Ping Pong,” on the new album, is the most delightful track: it sounds like a dopey 70s sitcom theme, but listen deeper and you’ll get caught up in the tension the band produces. There’s nothing new as daring as the epic “Jenny Ondioline” of last year, but songs like “Anamorphose” and “Outer Accelerator” unfold with enormous authority before hitting their explosive climaxes. The band’s Metro show last year was a blast; this year they’ve got even more synths along for the ride. Gastr del Sol and Labradford open. Saturday, 10 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.

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