STS9: Ad Explorata (1320) 

It may seem odd for a mostly instrumental band to define themselves in political terms, but STS9 have strived to push beyond clichés since their not-terribly impressive start as an electro-jam band.

Born as Sound Tribe Sector 9, the politics- and keyboards-heavy quintet quickly built a loyal following by touring ceaselessly. Meanwhile, their studio efforts have turned a breakbeat-and-jazz template into sonic explorations of both analog and digital sounds, looped and sampled to interesting effect. Ad Explorata hardly pushes the edges serrated so gorgeously on 2008's Peaceblaster, but there are some STS9 mainstays that never disappoint.

Leaving their radical-speech sampling behind, the first two-thirds of the new disc seems paused in motion on "cinematic soundtrack" mode. The understated keyboards and atmospherics of "Phoneme," "Heavy" and "Looking Back on Earth" thumb through programmed-sounding live drums with no shortage of ideas.

When stuck in such lightweight ruts, the band can come across like sonic wallpaper. Thankfully, by "Re: Stereo," rump-shaking (the band's live forte) is re-introduced, as the standard power pop bass line jiggles joyfully below the squiggles of electro-trickery, heavy Moogs and romantic keys.

Look for the atmospherics to be heavy at the Rialto, but bring your rug cutters, too, 'cause it should be hard for STS9 to stay in movie-soundtrack mode for too long.


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