With its many releases, it can be daunting to enter the world of the “Groop” known as Stereolab. My recommendation for an entry point is always Dots and Loops, originally released in 1997 and reissued as a beautiful three LP set in September 2019 via Warp. Honestly, all of the band’s recordings are fantastic, but this release really exemplifies the “Space Age Bachelor Pad” sound of Stereolab.
From the cover art to the recordings, it is just perfect. Stereolab drew inspiration from the vintage sounds of exotica records one might hear at a tiki bar, soundtracks like A Clockwork Orange by Wendy Carlos, groovy Moog synthesizer demonstrations like “Switched on Bach,” French ye-ye pop chansons, tropicalia, bossanova, and more.
Taking these vintage sounds, the members of Stereolab (who emerged from C-86 stalwart McCarthy) recombined them with what at the time were the more modern sounds of shoegaze and twee-pop. They then added a steady rhythmic backbone with the motorik drum sound of krautrock bands like Neu, Can, and, of course, the robotic electronic pulse of Kraftwerk.
Stereolab would dominate the ’90s with its most unique and original sound. Trip-hop acts like Portishead and Massive Attack existed concurrently and mined similar sounds, but Stereolab rarely deviated, managing to somehow sound timeless yet vintage. Just imagine a Twilight Zone episode set in an Ikea populated by actors from French new wave films, Bond femme fatales, and quirky weirdos from Twin Peaks—but instead of a TV show, this bizarre scene is encapsulated in a quirky pop song. Songs like “Brakhage” and “Miss Modular” are perfect pop gems, while the 17-minute “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse” showcases the experimental and, dare I say, “jammy” side of Stereolab. It’s all here on Dots and Loops—and it is even better if you can find one of those retro egg chairs to sit in and space out along with the muzak.