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Whenever a new Stereolab record comes out, I wonder whether it'll sound like the later, off-kilter, twee-era Stereolab or the band's earlier, krautrock-ish two-chord sound, which may not have been entirely original but thrilled my ears through the band's first two full-length releases (the Switched On compilation and Peng!, both released in '92 in the US). To me, it's not even close; I'll take the early Stereolab every time. Just about every song on Switched On and Peng! still makes my arm hairs stand on end, which, as weird as it might sound, is still my most reliable litmus test for music. Tim Gane's otherworldly guitars grind searingly against massive analog keyboard chords over a simple "one-two-THREE-four one-two-THREE-four" beat, and of course Laetitia Sadler's whimsical, revolutionary lyrics don't hurt either.

Essentially, it was Neu for the '90s.Listening to those early Stereolab songs brings me back to the day I dubbed Switched On from my friend Brian's CD. (Because I mis-titled the cassette "Computer Lab," I'd get the band's name wrong when trying to tell other people how great they were.)During the intervening days, Stereolab weathered the death of member Mary Hansen in a car-on-bike accident in 2002, line-up rotations and the stylistic change discussed above. They plan to release a new album, Chemical Chords, on August 19. Judging from the first single, it follows the later Stereolab model (an off-kilter jazz-pop disco sound) rather than their earlier one.I know which I prefer -- how about you? In case you've never pondered the question before, here's Stereolab's "High Expectation," from their first EP, matched up against their latest promo release, "Three Women."Stereolab - "High Expectation" (1991) (titled "The Light That Will Cease To Fail" on imeem) Stereolab - "Three Women" (2008)