The Flower Called Nowhere
Prisoner of Mars
Refractions in the Plastic Pulse
Ticker-tape of the Unconscious
Part of Stereolab’s legacy was to expose the orthodoxy of indie rock by embracing stuff indie rockers would have found desperately uncool: space-age pop, cocktail jazz, elevator music. Where 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup retained a punk edge (if you squinted, at least), Dots and Loops, released only a year later, was the full fruitcake. Compare the band’s 1993 epic “Jenny Ondioline,” a three-chord, 18-minute trance of noisy guitars and socialist incantations (“I don’t care, democracy’s being fucked”), with “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse,” which shifts from lounge waltz to variety-show jazz to synthesizer étude to funk-lite—a complex, almost pointedly corny descent into music that sounds less like the work of bonded mammals than some faceless corporation.
That, of course, is part of the point: Marxist-socialist-materialists that they were, the band advanced the idea that all this manufactured stuff was in fact the real music of our mostly manufactured times: the swingin’ '60s window dressing of “Miss Modular,” the soothing breakbeats of “Parsec,” the greet-the-day vibraphones of “Brakhage”—all of it sounded curiously prefabricated, musical MREs for enterprising youths on the go. Light, colorful, and effortlessly complex, Dots and Loops mapped the future the band had been searching for from the start.