Dots and Loops

Collected Works: Music


Dots and Loops

by Stereolab

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Distorted, arrhythmic scratches give way to a drum kit’s laidback groove. An electric keyboard sustains two minor chords in turn, with the second falling, leisurely, off the beat. A vibraphone joins, repeating a simple motif. As the ensemble continues to accumulate instruments, a vocalist enters: ‘We need so damn many things / To keep our dazed lives going’. Another singer echoes her words, but follows a melodic contour closer to that of the vibraphone jingle.

Dots and Loops is unstuck in time; it seems to look at once backwards and forwards for musical inspiration. Its stylistic traits are borrowed from an assortment of genres, from krautrock to jazz, bossa nova to art pop. Listening, we may hear the smooth tones of a space-age lounge band, or a pseudo-futuristic soundtrack dreamed up for a retro radio advertisement. Electronics whir, burble, swirl, and bleep at every turn.

Stereolab’s worldview stems from a collective interest in Marxism, which regularly rises to a song’s surface. An early allusion to Ouroboros, the snake that bites its own tail, decries the desire for constant novelty, while ‘Diagonals’ frankly refers to ‘la grande bourgeoisie’. Lyrics are often separated into short snippets and shared between band members, as with the opening denunciation of excessive consumption on ‘Brakhage’.

Through their economical approach to composition, the group practise what they preach. The shelf-life of their material is eked out by their brand of breezily executed minimalism. Tunes are reused, with syllables squeezed into rotating pitch patterns, the emphases and phrasing varying between iterations. In its self-salvaging impulse and its assimilation of Stereolab’s many influences, Dots and Loops proves that musical ideas can be recycled to create something fresh.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

You can listen to alternate versions of songs from Dots and Loops via a 1997 BBC session recording here. Sean Flinn has interviewed Tim Gane (Stereolab’s guitarist) for Choler Magazine, as has Justin Colletti for Tape Op.

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