Laetitia Sadier: Silencio

Recently interviewed on BBC 6music, Sadier suggested that having Tim Gane contribute a song - 'Next Time You See Me' – to her new record was a way of suggesting to him that the door to Stereolab was still open. It's a cute track, with a nagging melody and lackadaisical rhythm to match 'Lo Boob Oscillator'. So is Silencio just about Laetitia carrying the torch (with help from a few friends, like Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop and James Elkington) until Stereolab reform?
Sound-wise, this is closer to the-'Lab than the more tentative 'The Trip', which was her official solo debut outside Monade but on the evidence of both, Sadier effectively owns these kinds of chord sequences and bubblegum-meets-Tropicália vibes; in a recent issue of The Wire, she talked of musical 'Epiphanies' as including Blondie's 'Heart of Glass', UK indie pop and Jorge Ben – a neat triangulation that might be said to loosely mark out her base of musical operations. To put it more simply, this is her voice and, Silencio attests to a growing confidence as a solo artist. By the end of the record, on 'Invitation Au Silence', it is literally just her voice alone, recorded in a church in the south-west of France (with two vocal tracks, one in French and the other in English, taking turns to move ahead or lag behind the other), relating another epiphany that come upon her in a church in Spain as she listened to how “even silence can amplify and swell”. She urges us to “listen to how resonant with truth silence is.”
Elsewhere, this era of economic crisis and austerity measures inspires an almost disarming lyrical directness - it's hard, in fact, to think of another 'alternative' album recently that has set out its political stall so unambiguously. On 'Ascultation to the Nation' – “financial markets, ratings agencies and the G20/but who are these people and why on earth do we care about their opinion” (apparently this is the exact speech given by an angry caller on French radio station, France Inter). Album opener 'The Rule of the Game' is a more layered take on the same subject, casting a baleful eye over a “ruling class... drawn to cruel games” that result in a general depletion of human spirit - “it makes one one want to sleep/makes me want to weep/the ghosts are coming home at night/devoid of consciousness.” Draped in warm but weary, wordless harmonies, it's also is one of Silencio's richest statements, a song that feels like someone shaking their head sadly and sighing.
It's hard to know, then, what to make of its sudden leap into a jaunty outro but perhaps it's there to express optimism and faith in the human spirit in spite of everything. There are some other, overly decorative features I would happily have forfeited, though, like the synth-string coating on the 'Midnight Cowboy'-esque 'There Is a Price To Pay For Freedom (And It Isn't Security)', while Sam Prekop's electronic interventions can sometimes feel like they're thrown on as an afterthought, but he does help to spring a couple of surprises too, as in the moment 'Merci De M'avoir Donné La Vie' blossoms into a kind of slow dub-house ballad.
Silencio is no radical departure and there is much that will be comfortingly familiar to fans of Sadier's previous work. Crucially, though, it proves that her musical language, one that apparently grew within and then out of Stereolab's sound, is a living, breathing one, and that she still has plenty to say to us about the right to be heard, and the right to silence.
David McKenna