Peng! (Too Pure)
The question “what is your favorite album?” always leaves me feeling a bit like I’m falling out of the sky, as I can think of dozens of favorite albums in one split second, much like the velocity of one’s body falling through time and space in the blink of an eye. There’s the question of “favorite” album and then there’s the question of which album is your “greatest influence.” For me, this is Stereolab’s debut studio album Peng! (1992). I can still remember the first time I heard it – I was 22 years old and I’d never heard anything like it, not even close. I didn’t know it was ok to mix genres in the way this group did and that you could do so and still hold solid songcraft in your back pocket. As a kid who never held steady to one genre of music taste, but felt equally committed as a fan of punk rock, experimental noise, shoegaze, folk, jazz, new wave, world music, and soul, hearing Stereolab for the first time was nothing short of mind-bending for me.
Stereolab and their first record Peng! aren’t easily defined. Simply put, Peng! is both modern and retro. A simple yet complex merging of experimental 60’s pop, ’70s krautrock, ’50s jazz, dreamy ’60s-influenced female girl-group harmonies, British mod-psychedelia, smooth low-end lounge pop, with an undercurrent of hypnotic analog synths, sequencing and electronics, endless memorable counter melodies, repetitive sonic drones, lo-fi pop precision, a hint of world music, some punk rock and experimental noise with a keenly cinematic quality – this album stands the test of time. Peng! is pure ironic bliss. There is skill in the way it brings opposites – minimalistic monotonous repetitive grooves that both make you stand completely still and dance at the same time. The album is punk rock in the sense that it’s genre-bending/genre-exploring, rule-breaking, boundary pushing, discordant avant garde, and yet at times ethereal, beautiful, poetic, and then chaotic, noisy, and sonically pleasing. Any band that can write great songs with only two chords and songs that could easily be performed without the use of electric instruments strikes me as brilliant. Stereolab redefined the nature of experimental music with this album and also upheld the gold standard of pop songwriting mastery.
“Joanna” is out now. The self-titled debut album will be reissued on February 5 through Jealous Butcher Records.