Published Feb 22, 2021Just months after the release of their 1992 debut full-length, Peng!, Stereolab were already collecting odds and ends, collecting early 7-inches and EPs for their Switched On compilation. Over the next six years, the eclectic avant-pop band would put out two more highly-regarded and beloved additions to their Switched On series, proving that they were utterly incapable of putting out bad music during the '90s.
Electrically Possessed [Switched On Volume 4], picks up from where 1998's Aluminum Tunes [Switched On Volume 3] left off. Covering Stereolab's least-celebrated era, the 25-track, 104-minute compilation spans the years between 1999's Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night and their final proper studio release, 2008's Chemical Chords. The first 40 minutes — dedicated to The First of the Microbe Hunters, an EP from 2000 that was mostly maligned by critics upon its release — hasn't exactly improved with age aside from the rubbery, melodic standout "Household Names."
After those seven tracks, the compilation jumps around from era to era, pairing tracks like the magnificent IDM-influenced 2006 single "Solar Throw-Away (Original Version)" with the jagged, icy instrumental "Pandora's Box of Worms" (the album's only unreleased track) and the late-career throwback B-side "L'exotisme Interieur" before retreating to the swirling synth sound of the 1999 A-side "The Super It." Although these timeline leaps mess with the album's overall flow, there's nonetheless plenty of gems to be found, as the skittering electronic bleeps of "B.U.A" (a hard-to-find track only used in a '98 museum exhibition), blends Stereolab's experimental sonic adventures with vocalist Lætitia Sadier's lovely penchant for melody, while the dancefloor-ready propulsion of the 2005 France-only release, "Dimension M2," stands firmly as one of the band's long-lost classics.
Despite the fact that the compilation completely omits their six excellent 7-inch singles released between 2005 and 2006 (already compiled on 2006's Fab Four Suture), it's surprising to see that this sprawling collection offers no real throwaways, as demos, live cuts and BBC Radio sessions are smartly omitted, something that has weighed down similar compilations put out by their peers. That said, there's a fair share of material here that's simply uninspired, as tracks like "Explosante Fixe" and "Monkey Jelly" rehash the same ideas that sank the last few Stereolab albums.
Although it may stand as the frailest of the Switched On series (so far, at least — the band have teased that a Volume 5 is on its way), Electrically Possessed contains some of their most daring, buoyant and surprisingly solid set of songs, framing Stereolab as a band who managed to stay adventurous and weird right to the end. (Warp)