Review Summary: Some worlds never lose their luster
Roughly nested in the middle of their musical canon, Dots and Loops marks what many have taken to be Stereolab’s magnum opus. I think this is right.
In music, there are some worlds that never lose their luster. This is an album where a group of people discovered the algorithm for producing a very particular sort of beauty. Just glossy enough; what you wish you heard in hotel lobbies and elevators. Bubbly, yet still suited to the winter months. These are songs with identity, an unmistakably consistent output of nostalgia, melancholy and optimism. When these sorts of small emotional contradictions mix together, my musical vocabulary is hardly apt to capture them. But that is the challenge: to try, over and over, to say what is heard.
What can be said: Stereolab has always played with layering, and you will find quite a lot to pick apart in any of their work. What makes Dots and Loops what it is, however, is its cohesion: the sense that, after myriad attempts to find their balance, they really did.
Granted, balance is not an easy factor to test for: one has to feel a certain absence of discord. But not just this, since discord can itself be what elevates a work of art from the banal to the exciting. And even this is not quite the way to characterize the tension, for it will be complained (perhaps rightly) that Dots and Loops is not exciting per se. It is not a flashy piece, though neither is it banal. Whatever it is it is best taken as a system; a universe with its own laws. A singular rhythm guiding the entire affair, temperate in structure, to be enjoyed with red wine and small company.
The feeling of being cozy in a snowstorm.