Stereolab posits a coming age that is paradoxically both disturbing and groovy. On Dots and Loops, Laetitia Sadier, Tim Gane, and friends continue to explore this possible future, assembling its soundtrack from their closets of vinyl (Neu!’s Moogy Krautrock, ’60s swing, bossa nova, punk, Glassworks) and borrowing its ideological agendas from the likes of Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci. Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996) was the band’s most colorful record, leading off with a funky beat on “Metronomic Underground” and reworking the theme from ’70s Czech/French sci-fi fable The Fantastic Planet on “Monstre Sacre” without losing momentum. This time, with help from fellow futurists Tortoise and Mouse on Mars, Stereolab has made a subtle, breezy, but extremely sophisticated album. Though it’s assembled from a dizzying array of elements—swirling strings, swelling brass, the liquid voice of Sadier, the sampled buzz of unplugged cables, shifty, swinging beats, techno blips, organ tappings, synth gurglings—cut and pasted together on hard disk, Dots and Loops sounds naturally lush. When the album is best, it evokes a distant electrical storm (“Refractions in the Plastic Pulse”) or a rush-hour tram ride through a fictional utopian metropolis (“Diagonals”). The aural sensations flow smoothly, but D&L whirs by on a sinister current. Stereolab could very well be the most significant band of the decade, comfortably building on an oeuvre essential to every modern-day beatnik, gathering the cultural debris of the past and building a mysterious but tantalizing vision of the future upon it.

—John Dugan