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Duo fashions sublime carnival of kitsch-pop

Matthew Solarski | Thursday, February 24, 2005

Multiply two quirky songwriters by three languages, and one arrives at this – the sixth full-length from Berlin-based pop culture mavens Stereo Total. The duo, comprised of ostensible husband-and-wife Francoise Cactus and Brezel Goring, has been churning out albums of charming, infectious electro-pop at an alarming rate since 1995. Stereo Total’s latest, the slyly named “Do the Bambi,” proves a delightful addition to this lineage.Simply put, this is a ridiculously fun record, rife with hooks, grooves, keyboard flourishes and all the touches that make pop music, well, popular. Cactus’ sultry vocals flirt with the perky instrumentation, seamlessly transitioning from German to French to English and back again, sometimes within the same song. The English lyrics admittedly have that slightly-offbeat quality that often surfaces when non-natives approach the language, but this serves as yet another part of the charm of “Bambi.” In fact, they are frequently clever, such as when Cactus writes off her penchant for nudity by claiming, “it’s just my birthday suit.”Indeed, several of the tracks here dabble in surprisingly sophisticated lyrical subject matter that belies the hook and bells and whistles underlying it. “Orange Mecanique,” for instance, culls elements from the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” together with a selection from Anthony Burgess’s text and fashions them into a spooky – even danceable – three-minute pop ditty. And not one but two of the selections on “Bambi” draw their inspiration from Jean Luc-Godard’s twisted 1969 invective against mass culture, the film “Weekend.” On yet another track, “Cinemania,” Cactus treats listeners to a cinephile’s laundry list, at one point rhyming Julie Christie, Jacques Tati, Warren Beatty and Visconti. And one cannot help but delight in the telling assonance of the pithy “Europe, Neurotic.”Making its domestic start on indie micro-label Bobsled Records, based out of mini-metropolis Aurora, Ill. (of “Wayne’s World” fame, among other distinctions), Stereo Total’s idiosyncratic brand of mirth eventually found the ears of the venerable Kill Rock Stars label. The one time home of Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and others, Kill Rock Stars released the stellar “Musique Automatique” in 2001 and now “Do the Bambi.””Bambi” is addled by but one major misstep – a rather wretched number nested in the very center of the opus, “Hungry!,” which features a guest “rap” by Hawney Troof and an obnoxious bap-ba-dah chorus. “Hungry!” is just atrocious enough to chip a half-shamrock off an otherwise sublime record. Graciously, in this age of TiVo and iPods, one can skip “Hungry!” and revel in “Do the Bambi”‘s eighteen other gems.