Saint Etienne | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Saint Etienne


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It's been four years since this British trio released Tiger Bay (Warner Brothers), its third and still its frothiest fusion of thumping house beats, swinging-60s sex-kittenisms, and bleached Motown soul. In some ways the group was a precursor to airbrushed trip-hop acts like Morcheeba and Mono, but the simple rhythm programs and cheesy keyboards of Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley undercut the music's syrupy pleasures with irony, intentional or not. On the new Good Humor (Sub Pop), the musical formula is basically the same, but the band has wiped the smirk off. Recorded in Sweden with Cardigans producer Tore Johansson and a nine-piece backing band, the album easily trumps most of the Scandinavian pop that's washed up on our shores in the last year or two. Singer Sarah Cracknell continues to make the most of her limited abilities, concentrating on subtle melodic embellishment rather than interpretive variation; the 11 tunes feature some of Saint Etienne's strongest, most insinuating hooks; and the punchy horn charts, real drums, propulsive electric bass lines, and Johansson's string arrangements and tasteful harmonica flourishes give them a new and genuine sonic depth. The lyrics are a little stupid--the album's first single, "Sylvie," is about the narrator's younger sister trying to steal her boyfriend--but with all the other stuff that's going on here, who's listening? Local kindred spirits the Aluminum Group, whose lyrics are sharper but whose melodies aren't quite as fetching or confident, open. Saturday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Hamish Brown.

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