These Things

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Beginning as a side project for Belle and Sebastian bassist Stuart David to explore electronic avenues, Looper became something more when David left the band and teamed with his wife Karn, brother Ronnie, and others. Over the course of three albums and a handful of singles and EPs, the band continued to delve into electronics but also gave free rein to Stuart's storytelling, took quite a few stylistic left turns, and left the world with at least one classic piece of late-'90s radio gold, the bouncy and somewhat ubiquitous "Mondo '77." As part of the David's return to music in the 2010s, along with recording the new album Offgrid:Offline (which was released concurrently), Looper and Mute compiled the band's output on a five-disc box set, These Things. Instead of collecting songs chronologically, the band instead grouped the songs in five different categories. Kinokraft houses the loop-driven, fun, and frolicsome tracks like "Mondo '77" and "Ballad of Ray Suzuki" that showed off the group's lighter side, Transmitte focuses on pop songs with beats and features remixes by Ladytron and others, Melos is where the group's most straightforward songs are kept, David's spoken word pieces are the basis of Lexiphonics, and Voxtrot details the band's more R&B and hip-hop-inspired tracks. While this approach might not work for some bands, for Looper it's a revelation of sorts. Sometimes when listening to their albums, it was difficult to get a clear picture of what the band was trying to do, but with Looper's different aspects separated so clearly, it all begins to make sense. Listening to Kinokraft, you get a sense of what a loose and joyous band they could be, Lexiphonics is a satisfying deep dive into David's poetry, while both Melos and Transmitte show that they were really good at blending electronics and solid pop songcraft. Only Voxtrot is a bit of a letdown, as their forays into R&B never quite gel the way other pursuits did. The disc is still worth a listen, though, as it has some nice hip-hop-based moments, like the goofy scratch-crazy "Up a Tree Again" and the melancholic "What If...?" The whole box is worth checking out, even if you wrote the band off in the past. Their sound has mostly aged very well and the way These Things is arranged rewards further investigation. Looper may never have been an "It" band and they seemed to exist on the outer edge of the indie scene, certainly in Belle and Sebastian's shadow, but this box set is evidence that they were doing some very interesting things even when no one was looking.

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