On Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab moved in two directions simultaneously -- they explored funkier dance rhythms while increasing the complexity of their arrangements and compositions. For the album's follow-up, Dots and Loops, the group scaled back their rhythmic experiments and concentrated on layered compositions. Heavily influenced by bossa nova and swinging '60s pop, Dots and Loops is a deceptively light, breezy album that floats by with effortless grace. Even the segmented, 20-minute "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse" has a sunny, appealing surface -- it's only upon later listens that the interlocking melodies and rhythms reveal their intricate interplay. In many ways, Dots and Loops is Stereolab's greatest musical accomplishment to date, demonstrating remarkable skill -- their interaction is closer to jazz than rock, exploring all of the possibilities of any melodic phrase. Their affection for '60s pop keeps Dots and Loops accessible, even though that doesn't mean it is as immediate as Emperor Tomato Ketchup. In fact, the laid-back stylings of Dots and Loops make it a little difficult to assimilate upon first listen, but after a few repeated plays, its charms unfold as gracefully as any other Stereolab record.
[The bonus material included on the 2019 reissue of Dots and Loops emphasizes just how much Stereolab's creative process changed to make this album. On these demos, sketches, and instrumental mixes, the band's first forays into loops and their collaborations with Sean O'Hagan, Mouse on Mars' Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma, and John McEntire (as well as other luminaries of the Chicago post-rock scene) are all captured in granular detail. The transfixing "Diagonals (Bode Drums)" and percussive collage of "Bonus Beats" reflect the new textures they explored on the album, as well as the growing influence of electronic music on their work. It's just as fascinating to hear how Stereolab's demos of "Miss Modular" and "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse" -- which grew from the two-and-a-half-minute sketch here into a lengthy sprawl on the album -- encapsulate most of the ideas that appeared in the final versions of these songs, yet also gave the band plenty of room to explore. The instrumentals of "Brakhage," "Diagonals," and "The Flower Called Nowhere" (one of the group's most-sampled songs by the likes of Madlib and others) offer another chance to savor just how well Dots and Loops' fusion of lounge, jazz, post-rock, pop, and electronic worked when the band brought all of these elements together. Meanwhile, die-hard fans will appreciate the demos of B-sides and bonus tracks such as "Allures," "I Feel the Air," and "Off On," which uphold Stereolab's reputation for giving fans a complete look at their music.]