MONADE (featuring Laetitia Sadier ) at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Monday (May 16). $15. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Somewhere in the maze of bloopy Moog riffs, nonsensical album titles and bubbly bossa beats, the members of Stereolab have always buried their own charmingly disjointed sort of Marxist critique.
But despite using a retro lounge framework to subtly - and bilingually - deconstruct the system, the Euro post-rock crew appear to be suffering from their own internal hierarchical dialectic.
At least that's the impression 'Lab lyricist/frontwoman Laetitia Sadier gives when I ask why she's embarked on her own whimsically poppy Monade solo venture.
"Frustration, deep frustration," Sadier sighs. "I wanted to write songs, basically, and I could not in Stereolab, because Tim (Gane) writes the songs in Stereolab and he wanted to keep complete control. He didn't want to make space for my songs, which is fair, I guess, but I had to go out and express myself my own way.
"Like I always wanted to go out and play guitar. Right now I'm terrible. I practise alone in my room, and at the moment I look totally ridiculous. But maybe at the end of this I'll actually look OK - as long as my fingers aren't destroyed.
"I wanted to make things right, to fix some of the things I thought were " she pauses, "wrong with Stereolab."
Sadier laid the groundwork for Monade way back in 1996, when she and Rosie Cuckston (of Birmingham electro-popsters Pram) recorded tracks that would later be released as part of 2003's Socialisme Ou Barbarie: The Bedroom Recordings (Duophonic/Drag City). But it's only now that the group is really taking off, which might be partly related to the fact that Sadier broke up with Gane, her husband and Stereolab co-founder, last year. She admits that the split gave her "more determination," but insists she would've pursued her solo endeavours regardless.
The thing that's really kick-started the Monade machine, though, is the project's evolution from a lo-fi one-woman undertaking to a full-fledged stylishly swingin' pop band, and the recent release of their second album, A Few Steps More, on Too Pure/Beggars.
The title of the disc, says Sadier, is supposed to be an optimistic reflection of her own philosophy of progress - which applies to both the state of society and Monade itself.
"Of course, the path, the chemin, is more important than actually getting anywhere," she explains. "I like this idea of always improving somehow. Not for vanity, just becoming wiser, because I'm far from being wise. But I feel that if your intention and your will is about developing, then so be it. So it can be."
You might get that shiny happy vibe the first time you listen to the delightful ditties on A Few Steps More, which feature Sadier's idiosyncratically aloof vocals and sound suspiciously like a slightly harder and more conventional Stereolab, but put your high school French education to work and you'll discover that the lyrical content is quite dark.
In songs like Wash and Dance and La Salle Des Pas Perdus, Sadier and her bandmates take on warmongering philistines, heartless cowards, losing love and being paralyzed by fear. There's some subtle anti-U.S. cultural imperialism stuff, although you have to look hard to find it, and Sadier is quick to note that her anti-Dubya sentiments have nothing to do with being a French citizen.
"I don't feel patriotic in that sense. Bush is such a huge idiot, it's really not his freedom fries thing. That's just part of his general idiocy, which has reached frightening levels."
Since even the most pointed critiques (the images of mutilated bodies, cannonfire and costumed figureheads on podiums in Wash And Dance are particularly disconcerting) are sung in Sadier's characteristic lilting, airy laissez-faire style, the band manages to build a peculiar kind of tension throughout A Few Steps More that makes the music more interesting the more you listen to (and translate) it.
Sadier claims that tension is unintentional, although it seems tied to her own gritty humanist worldview.
"I feel that we live in a world that has a very degrading view of humans, that humans are dirty and they pollute," she begins, "and to me, it's like, yes, it can be absolutely awful, but humans can also become whatever they wish. We have to tap into this potential, and maybe because there is so much potential, it's scary and we cannot face it."