Berlin pop duo sounds maturing but never boring

“Do the Bambi” marks the sixth proper album for the Berlin-based experimental duo Stereo Total. After all those albums and 10 years of nonstop frantic exploration of pop music forms and methods, the couple has a lot of experience and know-how to use, and this album shows them strutting their weird stuff with a certain swagger that definitely becomes them.

It seems that Francoise Cactus and her boyfriend Brezel Goring no longer feel the need to rock out every couple of minutes to maintain the energy that made their previous outings so kinetically charged. The punk guitars and live drums are pushed to the back of Stereo Total’s garage, replaced with stacks and stacks of vintage Casios, modern electronic instruments, and no doubt a couple laptops. Don’t let that newfound gloss scare you away; their manifesto of punkishly stripping down pop music to its bare essentials is still in full effect.

The title track is a prime example. Any high school garage band worth its salt can write a conventional pop song and then play the hell out of it, making a point to scream the chorus in whatever the fashionable style of the moment is. It takes skill, however, to write a great, simple pop song and play it with deliberate restraint, exposing the ironies of verse-chorus-verse structure by dead panning it over some barely audible ambient chord changes and blip-blip drum machine beats. Where there should be a splashy cymbal hit, there is only the uncomfortable vacuum of uncertainty. This is the kind of tension Stereo Total deals in and “Do the Bambi” exploits it to great effect over its 19 tracks.