One of the most distinctive alternative bands to emerge in the ’90s, Stereolab either celebrated forms of music that were on the fringe of rock, or brought attention to strands of pop music — bossa nova, lounge-pop, movie soundtracks — that were traditionally banished from the rock lineage. Led by Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, the group’s trademark sound — a droning, hypnotic rhythm track overlaid with melodic, mesmerizing singsong vocals, often sung in French and often promoting revolutionary, Marxist politics — was deceptively simple, providing the basis for a wide array of stylistic experiments over the course of their prolific career.
On early singles and albums such as 1993’s Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, Stereolab combined ’60s pop melodies with an art rock aesthetic borrowed from Krautrock bands like Faust and Neu!, but by the time of 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup, their sound incorporated jazz, hip-hop, and dance. Their collaborations with John McEntire and Jim O’Rourke on albums such as 1997’s Dots and Loops and 2001’s Sound-Dust found Stereolab pursuing an increasingly intricate, experimental approach. Following the tragic 2002 death of member Mary Hansen, the band returned to a poppier style for later albums like 2008’s Chemical Chords. Stereolab’s unmistakable sound had a lasting impact: During the ’90s, indie contemporaries such as Pavement and Blur aped their style, while hip-hop artists such as J Dilla and Tyler the Creator sampled the band’s music or collaborated with its members in the 2000s and 2010s.