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Saint Etienne

Anyone who's still daydreaming through that decadelong lazy Sunday afternoon known as Saint Etienne will hardly be taken aback by the following news flash: The group has released yet another disc. Judging by the collection's title, the trio apparently felt that the hour's wait between proper albums is simply too much to bear.

This is not an entirely ludicrous assumption, given the source. Honestly, can anyone recall exactly how many interludes the group has thrown our way over the years? Singles, flexisingles, maxisingles, import bonus tracks/rarities/remix compilations... By comparison, Belle & Sebastian are a bunch of shiftless bastards.

Fortunately, 39 times out of 40, the goods justify the quantity. You'll get few arguments if you say that Saint Etienne's marriage of swinging-'60s sounds with a distinctly '90s sensibility influenced an entire generation of musicians. You'll get fewer yet if you say that its cocktail of breezy melodies, breathy vocals, and shimmering tonalities makes for a fine buzz. Certainly a Saint Etienne album is a perfectly enjoyable way to while an afternoon away.

And Interlude is no exception. While a platter of leftovers doesn't sound too appetizing, that's what the album is -- tracks recorded but not used on the group's dreamy 2000 release, Sound of Water. Only thing is they don't sound like leftovers. The fragments, B-sides, and whatnot gathered before us are rightfully an album unto themselves.

Pure pop pleasure bleeding into shards of abstract electronica, Interlude is, naturally, in keeping with Sound of Water. Consider "Roseneck," the eerie, throbbing opener that marks a clean break with the past: Patience, they seem to be saying, there will be no more spoon-feeding of radio-ready singles. Sure, the Saint Etienne of old can still be found in the beatific interpretation of the Beach Boys' "Stevie" and the shoop-shoop-shoo-be-doos that dot the landscape of "Queen of Polythene." But the real pleasure comes from stumbling upon the bliss amid the studio wizardry that is "Bar Conscience" and the beat-bombing madness of "Lose That Girl."

Odds are Interlude will entice only the most die-hard of Saint Etienne fans, which is just as well. This is not a disc for the uninitiated; this is a testament to the leaps and bounds with which a collective of musicians has grown over the course of a career. Then again, maybe all these interludes are bread crumbs with which to track their remarkable progress.

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Steven Chean

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