(1997) Stereolab - Dots and Loops
Stereolab's 5th album, Dots and Loops was released in 1997. It was a salient achievement for avant pop, digital recording, and independent music. The UK-based band's use of sampling technology and digital recording techniques created a novel approach in tandem with retro synths and vintage pop-inspired sounds. The result, on Dots and Loops, which came at the end of the millennium, was something entirely new and cutting edge. The opening track "Brakhage" comes in smooth with a few sputtering samples before a bossa nova sounding rhythm is established--accompanied by vibraphones and sweet melodies sung by French lead vocalist Laetitia Sadier: "We need so many damned things / To keep our dazed lives going". Backing vocals are interwoven by the Australian-born Mary Hansen. From a contemporary perspective, a lot of this record sounds almost like Wii Sports music or a Sonic the Hedgehog level, but the avant-garde approach of Dots and Loops broke new ground at the time. Soft melodies and digital loops, idiosyncratic guitars, and buzzing synths roll in and out over serene, rollicking rhythms. While it goes down smooth, lyrical themes on Dots and Loops were largely inspired by more dense intellectual subject matter, such as readings from Marxism and Guy Debord (of the French Situationist movement). The second track and single, "Miss Modular", contains strings and horns, as well as softly delivered melodies sung in French. The jagged, funky guitars and synthetic horn builds create a lightly danceable sense of movement--a sensation which tends to permeate the entire record. The titular dots and loops, it may be worth pointing out, likely refer to the use of samples and their appearance in digital audio workstations--which Stereolab were recording in at the time. The album was partially recorded in Chicago with production assistance from John McEntire--a drummer at the time who was involved with post-rock bands Tortoise and the Sea and Cake. Three tracks were recorded in Dusseldorf with engineering and production assistance from Andy Toma and Jan St. Werner--a.k.a the German electronic duo Mouse on Mars. On "Diagonals", Stereolab also sample krautrock band Amon Duul's opening motorik drum pattern from their song "I Can't Wait", over which, they layer vibraphone, textures, guitars, and vocal melodies. "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse" is the longest track on the record at 17 minutes and 32 seconds long. Various movements and vignettes coalesce with full on passages and other more minimalist instrumentation. Sadier, as well as Stereolab co-founder Tim Lane, and another Stereolab member, Andy Ramsay, all receive writing credits on the track. The futurist repurposing of vintage sounds on Dots and Loops also seemed to make "Parsec" the ideal choice for a Volkswagen commercial, one which reintroduced the mid-century Beetle design as the "New Beetle" in the late '90s. The track consists primarily of a restrained, repetitive breakbeat, melodic synth stabs, and horns. Overall, the album is one of Stereolab's most celebrated to date. It was critically and commercially successful. Released on Duophonic Records in the UK and Elektra Records in the US, it sold over 75,000 copies by 1999 in the US and charted in multiple regions. Eric Harvey, a Pitchfork contributor remarks, "Stereolab's masterpiece fused analog with digital, past with future, Marxism with the commercial magic of music through a pristine record that defined an age of 'recombinant pop.'" Stereolab continue to tour and release records, though they've been through hiatuses--as well as suffered the loss of Mary Hansen in 2002. In February, they announced tours in Europe and North America to coincide with remastered reissues of several albums.