Stereolab Lounges In Techno World

NEW YORK -- Somewhere just outside the massive galaxy that is electronica and just beyond the weak pull of kitschy lounge culture lies Stereolab.

Combining eclectic musical tastes with a talent for making the experimental accessible, this six-member team has been creating a musical universe all their own for seven years now. Dots and Loops, their ninth full-length album, is due out in September with the band hoping the LP propels them further along in their journey toward planet Fame.

However, for Tim Gane, 33, and Laetitia Sadier, 29 -- the primary songwriting team

of Stereolab -- ubiquity is not the primary goal. "I want to be on the side stream going somewhere else, away from the main flow," Gane said. And for the time being, that's just where they find themselves.

Talking to the soft-spoken duo is not unlike listening to their music: you are charmed and intrigued, but also vaguely aware that something is being missed, that you may not be catching everything.

It's clear, however that Dots and Loops is a sonic extension of last year's acclaimed Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Gane prefers to look at Stereolab's albums not as independent entities but "like a continuing body of work -- moving sideways -- heading toward something . . . kind of undefined, and we find out a bit more each time."

Still, Gane and Sadier describe the album as "a bit more happy sounding, relaxed sounding" than previous efforts, perhaps the result of having a steady band line-up for the past two years.

"We never rehearse the material before recording it," Gane said, which

allows for unpredictability and serendipitous use of whatever instruments

happen to be lying around the studio. Rather than layering melody upon

melody in Stereolab's usual process, they constructed the tracks on Dots

and Loops by attaching bits of song together, end on end. Strings, organ,

horns, vibes, voice and percussion all vie for attention in a burbling

mix, warm-sounding despite having been recorded entirely by computer.

The odd mix is familiar because Stereolab's interests are never fully out

of earshot, which Gane views as a strength and a sign that the band's

influences have been successfully assimilated into the Stereolab sound.

"I've never been fazed by people saying 'your songs sound the same' or

'your influences are very obvious.' I've got no problem with that."

Fortunately, Gane and the rest of Stereolab have Catholic tastes, drawing

on (oft-cited) Krautrockers Neu and Faust, groovy American pop such as Wild Honey-era Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach (who they describe as part of the "collective unconscious"), French chanteuse Brigitte Fontaine (Sadier: "my hero"), and, more recently, Brazilian music of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The influences range well beyond the purely musical. The title of the

first song on Dots, "Brakhage," refers to American experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, though as Gane points out the word also "sounds like an adjective." Whether or not you know the reference doesn't matter:

"Sometimes it's nice to have strange-sounding titles -- it works in a way

that's not too defined, and leads people into a way of listening, of

approaching the music that doesn't give them any answers." Divining the

source of a title such as Emperor Tomato Ketchup (another film reference) brings you no closer to "understanding" the album.

And sometimes a title takes on a life of its own. In 1993, when Stereolab

released The Groop Played Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, there was no way of knowing that "bachelor pad music" -- then only an idle reference to an

arcane form of '50s background noise Gane had caught in a bizarre

magazine -- would become all the rage amid the Swingers set. The title was

meant only as a reference to one of several genres of music explored on the

album. "It could just as easily have been called 'The Groop Played Country,'"

Gane said with a laugh.

In the end, though, it's the music itself and not the various labels

ascribed to it that the band said has drawn fans to Stereolab. "We like

to try to leave (the music) always unfinished in a way, and it's true that

there is that room for the listener to move in with imagination and fill in

those gaps," Sadier said. "People seem to enjoy listening to our records

more when they're driving, for instance, or ironing -- you still need to be

concentrating on what you're doing but there is a whole part of your brain

that can actively listen at the same time."

Much active listening can be done this fall, with Stereolab slated to tour the U.S. in support of Dots and Loops in November and December, most likely with German group Mouse On Mars, collaborators on parts of the new album.

"I might be wrong, but I think there is a certain universality in music; I

hope it's true," Sadier said.

If she's proven wrong, one could always take refuge in the tuneful universe occupied by Stereolab.