caribou swim
  • THURSDAY, APRIL 15, 2010

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Daniel Snaith makes strange choices. On the new Caribou album, Swim, odd juxtapositions of sounds and styles are the norm. Beats are abandoned mid-song and replaced by entirely different grooves. Squawking bird noises become a central hook. Payoffs that are expected do not come. Snaith seems to enjoy playing with the general expectations of dance music, and in many ways that seems like Caribou's raison d'etre. When it works, it's rewarding to hear the boundaries pushed by an artist who's clearly unafraid to alienate his audience.

On "Odessa" the album's opener and by far it's most conventionally satisfying tune, Snaith transplants a particular strain of 80's braniac euro-funk that brought us bands like Heaven 17 and Level 42. Snaiths wispy voice floats over the top and the whole thing breezes by in continental fashion. But the rest of the album is far more challenging. "Sun" begins with some awkward fader riding. The word 'sun' is repeated over and over as if being summoned from behind a cloud. It's the songs sole lyric, which could've been an interesting exercise, but at close to six minutes, wears out its welcome quickly. "Kaili" begins with warped, panned pulses. The beat keeps threatening to break in, but it never does, which is a pleasant show of restraint. Deliberately out of tune synths, snatches of flute and a screeching James White-style sax solo make this a compelling listen. The scattershot tendency Snaith has of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink works here, but less so elsewhere.

"Bowls" begins with four on the floor kick drum, synth harp swirls and staggered, grating bells. Garden variety house accents try to jack up the rhythmic stakes to no avail. "Hannibal" starts with clicky pulses, keyboard bass, orchestral blasts and marimba sounds, before switching gears completely to a darker mood piece as Snaith mutters indecipherably over the final two minutes. His voice becomes an issue as the record progresses. It's one of the thinnest lead instruments I've heard. At times it seems he's having a hard time even mustering the breath to convey any kind of emphasis, let alone emotion. Obviously, the music is the show and a truly gifted vocalist might deprive listeners of the homemade Caribou charm. But surely there's a middle ground.

Caribou's previous effort, 2007's Andorra, was a beguiling mash up of 60's era British pop and current electronic dance music. It was a unique and joyful blend, and Swim could use some of the warmth generated by those analog sounds. Snaith will always get an 'A' for effort. But this time there's a cold formality that creeps in around the edges. It's still more interesting than much of what's out there. You'll nod your head, but your ass won't follow.-dan siegler

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MP3:"Odessa" - Swim
Caribou on Myspace

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