Sharps & Flats

Belle and Sebastian spinoff Looper's billowy songs float on groovy rhythms, electronic beats and laid-back vibes.

Topics: Music,

Sharps & Flats

Midway through “The Geometrid,” the second album by the Scottish group target="new"
href="http://www.jeepster.co.uk/looper/header.shtml">Looper, there’s
a song, “These Things,” that is as lovely as it is confounding. The fuzzed-out,
sleepyheaded chorus, “These things almost make me smile,” is given narcotic
expression by singer Stuart David amid a drizzle of electronic baubles and a
hypnotic drum-’n'-bass beat.

A meditative quality exists in the repetition, but there’s no clear defining of
why “these things” would make David almost smile or, more intriguingly,
what it is about them that stops him short of actually smiling. What is it, after
all, that makes a smile thought-about, yet not realized? The line seems to
exist more as a koan than anything else. And in many ways “The Geometrid,” as a whole, is a similar vehicle.

The former bass player for href="/ent/music/feature/1999/05/04/bowlie/index.html">Belle and
Sebastian, David began Looper a few years back as a side project with
his wife, Karn. His brother Ronnie Black and friend Scott Twynholm are also in
the group, which is less a typical band than an artistic/musical collective.

Driven by electronic samples, sound effects, visual imagery and Casio
noodling, the new album has a murky theme hidden throughout its 10
songs — something along the lines of the steadily escalating prominence of
technology in everyday life. In that vein are such songs as “My Robot,”
“Tomorrow’s World” — which explores the realization, or more accurately, the
failed realization of latter-20th-century visions of the future — and “Modem
Song,” a tune that draws its musical core from modem squawks.

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But in inventing an overarching statement about modern technology, Looper
has created a work that is surprisingly old-fashioned and quaint. The group
has given electronic music what it so often lacks: soul, and a blessedly
beating heart even. Though filled with pops and hisses and high-pitched
squeals culled from an increasingly gadgetized world, the record remains
enchantingly melodic and tuneful. Billowy songs float on low-key groovy
rhythms, creating a sort of earthy/hippie music for the electronic age. As
David sings in “On the Flipside,” he’d just like to “drink some lemonade and
sit and just be quiet.”

Many of the songs’ lyrics aren’t lyrics at all, but fairy-tale stories read over
beats and effects. They are songs a 5-year-old might hear in his head as he
stares at the sky trying to decide whether a cloud is a giant fish or a
snowman. With their curious lyrics and meandering melodies, Looper’s songs
are open to quizzical interpreting. They become clouds full of mystery and
magic and possibility. They become the sort of things that almost make you
smile.

Joe Heim is a frequent contributor to Salon. He lives in Washington.

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