The Vague Sound Of Stereolab

Space is the place for Stereolab.

With Dots and Loops, the group's latest full-length disk, they

continue the experiments begun on last year's Emperor

Tomato Ketchup and carry them ever farther into the warm

ether.

The familiar musical touchstones are here --- Beach Boys circa

Pet

Sounds, Krautrock, Velvet Underground --- but added to these

are traces of Brazilian samba, French chansons and a spacey,

relaxed vibraphone/Farfisa sound that suggest a lounge act with a

sense of history and an overweening sincerity.

The first song, "Brakhage," sets a mellow mid-tempo groove that

holds up

for almost the entire disk. Over an unwavering two-chord organ

vamp,

vibes and the intertwining, counterpointed voices of lead singers

Laetitia

Sadier and Mary Hansen lay out the melody in alternating bursts.

The mood is rainy day, autumn afternoon; the title a reference to

American alternative filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Toward the end of

the tune, just as things seem to be settling down -- look out! --

chord change. Modulating

up, Stereolab show for the first time that they can take it to the

bridge.

The next tune, "Miss Modular," is the album's first single -- a

natural pick. This relentlessly catchy confection recalls all of the

best qualities of mid-'60s sing-along Motown (complete with a

cappella break, "dooby-doos" and brass) and English easy

listening bands of the mid-'80s (Housemartins, Style Council), the

sweetness cut by an occasional if unobtrusive guitar, a sound that

is noticeable here only because of its relative scarcity on the rest

of the album.

The organ returns to prominence on the third track, "The Flower

Called

Nowhere," which sounds like an outtake from a late-'60s Blue

Note

jazz release featuring a soloist performing "with voices." Think

Rosemary's

Baby theme.

We're treated to the printed lyrics to this song: "All the small boats

on the water aren't going anywhere./ Surely they must be loaded

with more

than simple matter./ Floating on top and gracefully tending to the

same

pole." It's a suggestive if static scene -- and the lyrics are as apt a

description of Dots and Loops as any I've been able to

come up with.

The album continues in this vein, burbling along and moved

forward by

Farfisa and moog and the enchantingly chilly vocalese from

Hansen and

Sadier, until it runs into the centerpiece, the 17-plus-minute

"Refractions in the Plastic Pulse." Essentially a leftover from a

planned-but-dissolved collaboration with American sculptor

Charles Long, the multi-part track deserves to be properly heard in

its intended context. Here, it simply sucks up light and matter,

leaving only undue gravity.

Overall, Dots and Loops makes for ideal background music

but does not

beckon to be heard repeatedly. There is a found-object quality to

the album, from the vaguely retro op-art packaging on in, which I

actually enjoy. It feels and looks and sounds like an LP one might

have found in a dusty cut-out bin of a small record store, used and

protected in a plastic sheath, suggesting the impossibly distant

lives of whoever had originally owned it.

But, on Dots and Loops, the music does little more than

simply suggest a

vague otherworldliness and a thin, ill-gained nostalgia.