Release Date: Apr 20, 2010
Record label: Merge
Caribou (aka Dundas, Ontario's Dan Snaith) has made a habit of reinventing himself on pretty much every album without ever losing sight of his own identity. Whether he's diving into Krautrock minimalism, cosmic jazz fusion craziness, psych rock freak-outs or bedroom electronica, he's always made his evolution seem remarkably natural. Not surprising, then, that his newest leap into club-inspired techno and house feels just as substantial and weighty as his previous forays into experimental pop.
Swim to the surface With his high, ghostly voice and ear for the eerie, Dan Snaith’s dance collages are less the stuff of a Saturday night at the disco and more 4 a.m. in a dark, seedy club. Under his nom-de-plume Caribou, his 2008 Polaris Music Prize-winning Andorra melted a heavy helping of electronica over ‘60s garage rock, but Swim favors the former, with Snaith’s repetitious vocals and synths quivering under the weight of a muffled bass.
After a three-year hiatus from Caribou, Daniel Snaith returns with an unorthodox electro-pop dance album. Where repetition normally prevails in traditional dance songs, Snaith becomes unpredictable. Tracks like opener “Odessa” and album standout “Leave House” begin with a semblance of structure then break into bursts of percussion where various sounds seem to arrange all on their own.
In his decade-long career, Caribou's Dan Snaith has fluidly moved between genres like folktronica, shoegaze, krautrock, and 1960s sunshine pop, assimilating their most familiar traits until they're practically in his DNA. His albums have felt warm, loose, and ecstatic (especially 2003's still-career-best Up in Flames), despite Snaith's behind-the-boards meticulousness. Snaith's latest, Swim, is even heavier on the precise sonic detail, and it's all the more impressive for it.
If I was an A&R man I wouldn’t go to gigs to look for new talent. Instead I’d conduct a Look Around You-style experiment where I gather the country's leading mathematical experts and plonk them in a room for a few hours with nothing to amuse them but a Microkorg, a copy of Ableton Live and a few maracas to shake. If you think the ensuing noise would sound like a Commodore 64 error tone then you’ve obviously not been introduced to PhD mathematician and song-crafter extraordinaire, the 32-year-old Dan Snaith aka Caribou.
In the narrowest of senses, Dan Snaith's latest album as Caribou picks up where its predecessor, 2007's acclaimed Andorra, left off. Just as Niobe, Andorra's closing track, was an itchy, gurgling, shapeshifter of a song, which bore little relation to the beatific psychedelia that characterised the rest of that album, so Swim is an itchy, gurgling, shapeshifter of an album, built from experiments in dance music, melodies that oscillate restlessly across the speakers, dispassionate vocals and squalls of free jazz. It's not an immediately convincing reinvention: Sun is engrossing musically, but ruined by its intrusive, abstract vocal; the clanging notes of Bowls are similarly tiresome.
Inspired by his newfound love for swimming, Dan Snaith’s (Caribou) new album, the appropriately titled Swim, is the celebration of things both new and old — old in that the album is a return to the techno-minded dance music he’d recently abandoned in favor of electro-pop on both Andorra (2007) and The Milk of Human Kindness (2005). Indeed, the spring-loaded beat loops and synth washes that made so many of his albums (particularly under the “Manitoba” banner) memorable are back. But Swim also possesses a new sense of frequency and oscillation that yields a triumphant balance between the dynamic (dancefloor) and the static (headphones).
Dan Snaith is not the kind of artist who likes to take an idea and stick with it until he runs out of gas. Throughout his decade-long career under the name Manitoba and now Caribou, his output has retained the same inner core of hooky melodicism and sonic experimentation, but he’s hopped from sound to sound on each release. The album previous to 2010’s Swim, Andorra, won him the most praise he had seen to date with a richly layered sound that added elements of 1960s British psych and folk to some tightly structured and memorable songs.
Caribou's Dan Snaith has skirted the curse of most popular electronic musicians by routinely releasing inspired and varied music throughout his decade-long career. His ability to move between such disparate genres as 1960s psychedelia, krautrock, shoegaze, and freakfolk without sounding hectic or sloppy has gotten him a bit of leeway to explore a decidedly unhip musical genre on his new release, Swim -- techno. And it's really not that bad.
Caribou’s recorded progression, beginning with the stilted, synthetic IDM of 2001’s Start Breaking My Heart has been a continual tug of war between the artificial and the organic, one that has inched further and further toward the latter. By 2007’s Andorra, the laptop DJ element had become secondary to a blindingly sunny retro-pop sensibility, which while effective in the short-term, also felt like something of a dead end. Swim thankfully wades back into the fray, balancing human vocals and machine emissions, physical instruments and computer sounds.
By anyone’s standards, Caribou’s Dan Snaith has a pretty impressive batting average. With the exception of 2001’s slightly bland glitchtronica pre-season tryout Start Breaking My Heart, Snaith’s much-adored full-lengths wound up in many year- and decade-end lists throughout the naughts. Swim is Snaith’s fifth solo long player (two were released under a moniker whose name can now only be used to advertise on behalf of a geriatric ex-punk) and he’s back to broken hearts.
An instantly enjoyable third effort as Caribou from the Polaris Prize-winning Dan Snaith. Chris Beanland 2010 Dan Snaith is a doctor of maths – and with his albums everything seems to add up. Stripped and purified beats sit comfortably with an atmosphere of the ethereal, while Snaith's lullaby vocals lead you into exciting new worlds. Thirty-two-year-old Snaith – a Canadian currently living in Britain – has been making music for more than 10 years.
Over the course of his first three albums, among many other things, Caribou’s Dan Snaith made it a point to bring awesome drums and percussion back into music, cramming his tunes full of loud breaks and bombastic fills that sounded as much marching band as they did rock band. 2007’s Andorra saw him throw another of his curveballs as, inspired by late 60’s psychedelic pop, he sharpened his songcraft by following traditional song structures and taking a stab at being a singer. Still, the booming drums were included when possible.
Dan Snaith's electro-mathematical mind has produced an intricate body of work, from 2003's Up in Flames through 2007's swirlier Andorra. The Canadian's color patterns often change with the tide, and on his latest disc, he's kind of blue, but it makes for an engaging listen. The pulsing weirdness of opener "Odessa" and echoing trance of follow-up "Sun" make entry into Swim easy and warm, and by album centerpiece "Bowls," a heavy, meditative instrumental, you're either hooked or you're not.