Digitization Finds #05 — Stereolab’s “Emperor Tomato Ketchup”

An album of the future, from the past, and especially relevant to the modern day.

When average people (i.e. not music historians or individuals with expansive knowledge of music outside of the mainstream) consider music of the nineties, gangsta rap, r&b, pop, grunge, and a few metal and metal-derivative acts. Most of it hasn’t aged terribly well, especially the singles. If you want to argue in the defense of Hootie & the Blowfish, Skee-Lo, Milli Vanilli, Semisonic, Bush, Creed, and others, feel free. How many people actively listen to Skee-Lo nowadays, though?

Stereolab is one of many bands on the fringe of the mainstream, likely part of what would be commonly referred to as “indie music” in the 2000s-onward. Their albums were moderately successful and quite influential but never quite achieved mainstream recognition.

Stereolab is definitely not a metal or grunge band. Alternative? Not really. Not really an electronica group either. Their sound is quite unique. Lots of electronic samples and instruments in the background. Two female vocalists who sing in English and French — sometimes playing off of each other singing in different languages than the other. Most of the tracks have a minimalist feel to them, yet there’s typically enough depth in both the composition and writing to feel coherent and whole.

The lyrics may turn off some listeners in this political climate. Many of the songs are partially in French, and the messages are seemingly in-line with the anti-authoritarian line of European socialism — -which required multiple listens and a bit of research for me to come to that conclusion. The explicitly political tracks are fairly universal, including this part of Les Yper Sounds:

You go in that team
I go on this team0
Divide everything
A flag or a number
Make ’em opposites
So there’s a reason
Stigmatization
Okay, now we can fight
Divide everything
Just put it all flat
Justification
Don’t think now, you just fight

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s disappointing revolutionary albums like this are never taken seriously by the mainstream for it’s message. The guitars and multiple synthesizers, samples, and the frequent duets create a beautiful album with a message worth hearing. Definitely check it out!

Overall Rankings

  1. Tori Amos — “Little Earthquakes” (1992)
  2. Tom Waits — “Real Gone”(2004)
  3. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Murder Ballads” (1996)
  4. Sufjan Stevens — “Illinois” (2005)
  5. Aesop Rock — “Labor Days” (2001)
  6. Leonard Cohen — “You Want it Darker” (2016)
  7. Stereolab — “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” (1996)
  8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Ghosteen” (2019)
  9. LCD Soundsystem — “Sound of Silver” (2007)

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