New Music Monday: Caribou “Swim”

Merge 2010

Normally, I’m a pretty anti-techno guy. As someone who was weaned on 60’s thru 90’s rock, I have a very low tolerance for music pumped out of a computer. (Obviously, one could call me a judgmental listener at times.) However, I am still loyal to the theory that every genre of music out there—EVERY genre—has something good to represent it. In the case of a few genres, the good stuff may not be so abundant, but there is still always a possibility for greatness. Dan Snaith, the main man behind Caribou, has been giving electronic music a wonderful name recently. His pop sensibility and pioneering sonic innovations helped his previous album, 2007’s “Andorra”, to win the coveted Polaris Music Prize; and “Swim”, the much-anticipated follow-up, could be bound for a similar glory.

That’s not to say “Swim” matches what Snaith achieved on “Andorra”—it doesn’t. While “Andorra” is comprised of airy and psychedelic pop songs, all of which feature vocals and most a more conventional verse/chorus/verse formula, “Swim” is pretty much the opposite. But like any other songwriter or artist that is truly in it for the love of the craft, it doesn’t sound as if duplicating a previous work was ever really a concern for Snaith—rather, it seems he was interested in reevaluation. Right from the get-go, with the metallic pulse of “Odessa”, he digs deep into his bag of electronic charms for what comprised the more rhythmically based material of his early albums, and proceeds to re-discover his roots in this manner for the rest of the record. It’s not recycled or rehashed, though—nearly every song on “Swim”, while their ultimate goal is to influence ass-shaking, presents Snaith in as inspired and experimental a mood as ever.

“Sun”, the album’s second track, sounds like Snaith’s attempt at a summer jam and is the sonic equivalent of cloudless blue. But in true Caribou fashion, even on songs such as this that meditate on one musical theme or idea, there is much more located beneath the simple surface. If one moment all that can be heard is a keyboard riff and backbeat, it won’t be long before sweeping harps or crunching distortion or gated drums or sweat-bead synth riffs will be flying at you from one side to another, wrapping themselves around your head and penetrating your brain like an iron Q-tip, only to be gone again in five seconds. This is an approach Snaith seemed to have perfected on “Andorra”, though it was a more traditional rock album. On “Swim”, one can sense he is having a ton of fun applying it to a type of music that especially excites him. And when he applies it to the album’s most realized songs—like the tight yet frenetic “Leave House”, or the deconstructed “Found Out”—the results can be stunning.

It could be said that “Swim” and “Andorra”, as albums, are doppelgangers of each other—two completely different beasts that represent the ongoing battle between rock and techno (or good and evil, depending on which is which). Somehow, though, they are both undeniably Caribou albums, each possessing Snaith’s exhilarating knack for building and shaping drones, clangs and sweeping chromatics into true behemoths of sound. The fact that “Swim” is more dance-floor friendly does not significantly lessen its impact. ***1/2

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One Response to “New Music Monday: Caribou “Swim””

  1. ambientmusic blog Says:

    This was a really nice story you did on your blog. I hope there is more until ill be back next time. But i posted some hints about my favorite DJs to share with you. I released a story over this really great artist Schiller aka von Deylen and his new record release named Atemlos. Perhaps you like to check my posts.

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