Is this any kind of departure at all? My favorite Stereolab is still:
...but it seems that the later-nineties stuff really got same-y, so much so that the albums started feeling interchangeable and I stopped buying them.
Any compelling reason to pick this one up??[/i]
I have to tell you, I pretty much flatly disagree with the general consensus about late-era Stereolab albums. They stopped "progressing," I guess, somewhere around 1997-8, but too high a premium is placed on artistic evolution. They progressed for half a decade before Emperor Tomato Ketchup came along, then became iconoclasts (for lack of a better term—and really, that's just a nice-connotation way of saying their sound hasnt' evolved a great deal in the last 6 years). But they were by no means out of good music at that point.
A. Emperor Tomato Ketchup is their absolute high-water mark, IMO. If you are only ever gonna own one Stereolab album, for God's sake, make it that one.
B. Dots and Loops is their lowest, most laid-back recording. It's also one of their most accomplished. Grows more gorgeous by leaps and bounds upon repeat listenings.
C. Cobra and Phases Group...: This is where most people (fans and otherwise) truly lost Stereolab's scent. A shame, in my opinion. Sure, some of these pieces are long and many sound interchangeable, but there are scattered moments of brilliance on this record. The John McEntire/Jim O'Rourke influence is pronounced and welcome....and...
D. Sound-Dust: The other pinnacle of the later Stereolab catalog. Just simply gorgeous, through and through. Songs just up and change pattern halfway through. O'Rourke's production is centerstage; every instrument sounds mature, every idea works. Calling this repetition of previous achievement is just intellectually dishonest: Stereolab are Terry Riley-esque in their reliance on repetition. They use it as a jumping off point, not as a crutch. Stereolab's only ever really done one thing, if you think about it. Sound-Dust (most likely their final album—Mary Hansen, R.I.P.) displays them doing that one thing as well as they ever have. Their most underrated album by a boatload.