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
The familiar musical touchstones are here --- Beach Boys circa
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
for almost the entire disk. Over an unwavering two-chord organ
vibes and the intertwining, counterpointed voices of lead singers
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
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
Nowhere," which sounds like an outtake from a late-'60s Blue
jazz release featuring a soloist performing "with voices." Think
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
than simple matter./ Floating on top and gracefully tending to the
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
Farfisa and moog and the enchantingly chilly vocalese from
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.