Europa-spanning pop-history-conscious groove alchemists

PREVIEW Eighteen years, nine studio albums, and dozens of singles and EPs along, Stereolab just might have been misnamed. Are the Europa-spanning pop-history-conscious groove alchemists better dubbed Stereogame? After all, founder-guitarist-keyboardist-songwriter Tim Gane describes the band's music-making process as more akin to intelligent child's play than anything strictly scientific. "I tend to look at it like a puzzle," he said by the phone during a tour stop in Detroit. "I'm the opposite of a classic songwriter — someone who contrives to write songs to convey something. To me, it's the opposite thing. I have nothing to say, but I want to find out ..."

Stereolab's latest full-length, Chemical Chords (4AD), teems with archetypal melodicism along with a certain age-old genre restriction: more often than not, the songs unfold their brilliant petals, blossom seductively, then recede around the three-minute mark. Longer tracks like "Nous Vous Demandons Pardon" play friskily bright snare, plonky vibes, and bell-like keys off a familiar Motown bounce. The music of Hitsville USA as well as the Brill Building provided a kind of rulebook for Stereolab's fun and games this time around. To add an element of uncertainty, he worked out the chords to the songs on guitar, then applied them randomly over four rhythms the band had already recorded with drum loops. As a result, he said, "you seem to listen to it for the first time."

That strategy of recontextualizing somewhat worn rock 'n' roll touchstones evokes filmmaker Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1964) soundtrack, which Gane references. And what is the wildest use for Stereolab's pop? "It was," Gane said, "used for a toilet advert in Italy."

STEREOLAB With Richards Swift. Tue/21, 8 p.m., $27.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000,>.

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