Album Review: Laetitia Sadier – Silencio

[Drag City; 2012]

I remember occupying Wall Street for a day, back when the whole movement still seemed viable and unifying to me. I trekked down with some college friends for the Times Square march, where some 20,000 people converged in peaceful protest. After hours of marching and chanting and signholding, we made it to our destination. Finally arriving at Times Square was an occasion that I won’t soon forget–as we approached the brightly lit tourist trap, many began running through the streets, reveling in our arrival. You could taste an intensifying unease between the Occupiers and the NYPD in those moments, and there lingered a sense of danger that only left when we split from the event and were back on the train ride home.

None of the electricity that I felt that day is very present on Silencio, the second solo effort by Stereolab frontwoman Laetitia Sadier, yet it too stands in protest of corporate and government corruption. Part personal manifesto and part protest album, the record meditates not only on the self, but also on pressing issues like the  the ongoing debt crisis in Europe. Although the latter is a problem that normally gets fists raised and chants shouted, Sadier’s delivery remains decidedly passive and searching throughout Silencio. She chooses instead to channel her anti-capitalist protestations via blunt lyricism–a tactic that can also be seen throughout her work with Stereolab.

Although sharp and politically charged, some of Sadier’s lyrics can come across as a mouthful. “Auscultation To The Nation,” for instance, awkwardly fits a monologue into a jangly art-rock shuffle. On paper, it’s a diatribe directed at financial markets and the G20, but in song it sounds a bit like a rock opera gone wrong. On opener “Rule of The Game,“ Laetitia equates the ruling class to “Overindulged children/ Drawn to cruel games/ Pointless pleasures/ Impulsive reflexes.” Once again, it’s a powerful lyric, but she stresses syllables awkwardly to make the line fit within the context of the song. For those who have listened to Stereolab in the past, Sadier’s unique lyrical turns should come as nothing new. For those who are new to Laetitia Sadier’s work (as I was upon listening to Silencio for the first time), they might prove to be a hurdle.

This record does indeed feel like a natural continuation of Sadier’s previous body of work. There are no radical changes from the kraut-lounge that she has become somewhat renowned for; you’ll note nods to yé-yé, 70s psychedelia, and 90s alternative rock sprinkled throughout this record. These scattered influences allow for a nice diversity between tracks. Standout tune “Fragment pour le future de l’homme” incorporates a bassline that can only be described as funky, backed by a smooth-yet-urgent breakbeat and a strutting one-chord guitar hook. The following track, “Next Time You See Me,” is a traditional indie rock song that slows the tempo down considerably with a catchy “ba-ba-ba” chorus and a clean, crisp guitar strumming along at the fore.

Then there’s “Invitation au silence,” a spoken-word coda to Silencio that meditates on the power of silence. Recorded in an empty church, Laetitia meditates in French as another slightly delayed voice mirrors her meditation in English. After her thoughts come to a close, she invites us to “listen how resonant with the truth silence is.” Tape hiss and a slight wind resonate for the remaining two minutes, and the album closes. Sadier’s call for silence is a total contrast from what I experienced at Occupy Wall Street–loud chanting, loud drums, a loud din inherent with a large gathering of people. The Occupiers might’ve taught me that there’s an undeniable power in volume, but Sadier has reminded me on this aptly-titled album that even the smallest voices can be incredibly impactful.