TRACK | Stereolab – John Cage Bubblegum

5/5 golden merles

I found “John Cage Bubblegum” through Carolyn Hawkins’ (School Damage, Parsnip, Chook Race) Sight of Sound Society Radio Mixcloud feature. It appears on the remastered Stereolab singles and rarities collection Refried Ectoplasm Vol. 2, first issued in 1995 and collected/reissued in 2018.

Drenched in reverb and surrounded, it leans heavily on a few formidable vocal melodies. There are a handful of phrases, breathlessly repeated in French, It’s the most beautiful / and it’s the saddest / it’s the most beautiful / landscape in the world.

As at least partially confirmed by the experimental composure and artist’s name in the title, there is an unreviewed post from claiming the track is made in reference to one of Cage’s most famous pieces, 4’33”. In this piece a performer intentionally plays nothing, allowing the audience/ambient noise to become the song.

True or not, there is a fun dialog in the play between these two ideas: lo-fi and no-fi. One is the direct embrace of the erstwhile void and the absence of all else other than that which is usually considered undesirable or an extraneous defect. The other a form that balances leaning into a celebration of melody and tone but also in a lo-fi, human manner, incorporating the place and performers, containing breaths between phrasing and elements of performance that likewise embrace these, to some, imperfections.

The former is the absolute extreme of this idea, but for my tastes, the latter, in contrast to the dehumanized/decontextualized refinement of the last few decades of modern pop, is not too dissimilar either.