Sunday, April 18, 2010

"We're Not Above Reviewing Leaks": Caribou - Swim

Back when Caribou's Dan Snaith was still making music under the name Manitoba--back before colostomy bag Handsome Dick Manitoba, in a fit of good old fashioned American arrogance, got upset at Snaith for using his name, despite the existence of, you know, a Canadian province named Manitoba--he made one of the best albums of the previous decade, Up in Flames. What made Up in Flames such an exceptional album was its vibrant sonic palate--Snaith incorporated psychedelic samples, sick beats, and sun-drenched melodies to make one of the most beautifully explosive "electronic" albums of the last ten years. Since then, Snaith, carrying on as Caribou, has continued to work within the boundaries of dance and electronic music, always exploring new sonic territory and doing so, more often than not, exceptionally well. 2005's The Milk of Human Kindness was a dense, almost claustrophobic affair, while 2007's Andorra superficially returned to the sunnier aesthetic of Up in Flames, but in a way that was slightly haunted by the specter of 60's pop, the album's atmosphere and melodies invoking The Left Banke and, more directly, The Zombie's summertime masterpiece Odyssey and Oracle.

On his upcoming release under the Caribou moniker, Swim, Snaith keeps things summery, but in darker and more aggressively dancier ways than anything on Andorra or Up in Flames. While those albums were a bit haunted and sunny, and ecstatic and bright, respectively--each capable of sounding perfectly at home on a hot day at the park or beach--Swim feels a bit more like summer alone at a cabin in the woods, at least when we're talking about atmosphere. The production is a bit denser than the previous albums, and the beats heavier. While opening track "Odessa" rides a slick percussion and bass groove, the subdued vocals and key flourishes gives the song a peculiarly solitary feel. Even more immediately bright songs like the accessibly dancey "Sun," conjures scenes of humid, foggy evenings at dusk.

One of the key's to Swim, it seems, is the anchoring of Snaith's sunnier elements with thicker beats and electronics, resulting in something that sounds both from the future and otherworldy, beautiful and exciting, but shot through with an uncanny current of quiet solitude. "Found Out" opens with warm keys and Snaith singing "While she waits she holds her breath/And thinks about the things he said." The nervey synths pulse beneath Snaith's voice as he describes the song's subject attempting to sing a not entirely familiar song. Already, the song's mood has been set as contemplative and a bit dark. When the beats kick in, and Snaith introduces new sonic layers, the song builds towards an unsettling sense of confinement, but never arrives, managing to keep itself anchored in the song's initial delicate sadness.

Elsewhere, "Bowls" rides a hard street beat percussion groove, while album closer "Jamelia," comes off as a cool down lap, albeit one with occasional stabs of strings and keys, re-asserting the album's slightly unsettling aesthetic. In the end, Snaith has, once again, progressed his art, pushed his sound to someplace that makes sense, but that we didn't necessarily see coming. The songs are still lush and accessible, but the production is richer, perhaps, than anything he's yet released. While Swim doesn't quite match the consistent heights of Up in Flames, its healthy balance between a dance foundation and eerie psychedelia easily places the album among Snaith's finest work.

Swim will be available on 4/20 from Merge records.


  1. That was indeed a jerk-move by Handsome Dick Manitoba, nee Richard Blum. For the record, though, The Dictators' Go Girl Crazy is one of my favorite albums.

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