Caribou, aka Daniel Snaith, seems to be able to adapt to whatever is happening in music at the moment. Thats not to say he’s just following the trends. He’s well aware of where things are moving and he’s choosen to chip in his two cents, now. In 2007 he released a mesmerizing collection of 1960’s influenced, psychedelic dream-pop tunes on an album called Andorra. So what else was released in 2007? Well at the top of the list would have to be Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which speaks for itself as a benchmark in indie-rock songwriting. There was also a very well received album by The Arcade Fire called Neon Bible. These three albums are certainly different, but the comparison here comes from how the songs were written and how they sound. Guitars, drums, bass, piano etc. They have similar styles, they were written in the same year, they were well received, no coincidence here. (The Field also released an album in 2007 called From Here We Go Sublime, which Snaith has most likely heard once or twice.)
Fastforward to the present and Caribou has just released his fifth album, titled Swim, and the progression of his music is immediately obvious. But before we talk about the album let’s put it into context, because it’s so drastically different than Andorra, while still unmistakably Caribou.
What has happened in music in the past 12 months? One of the most recognized albums of 2009 was Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, which took electronic music to a deeper level than it has gone since the days of Aphex Twin or Eno. Several months ago an artist called Four Tet released an album called There Is Love In You, a transcendent mixture of house and electronica, which seems like a proper place marker for the progression of electronic music to date.
This is where Caribou fits in. Swim (Merge Records) begins with the only pop-structured song on the album called “Odessa,” a strange and magnificent dance a long, sing a long, with a bass line that never relents, as the song builds to a body moving climax. From there the album takes an abrupt turn. “Odessa” is meant to suck the listener in and it does just that. But the track that really sums up the album is “Bowls.” It begins with a droning, rhythmic clap of strange and dark sounding bells. The haunting rhythm might be difficult to hook into at first because each measure changes and it rarely repeats, but as the song moves forward the droning is joined by what sounds like a heavenly electronic harp. Snaith meticulously adds one layer at a time as the song moves forward. Something cuts out and a new sound takes its place, over and over, until suddenly every sound he has subtly added throughout the whole 6:21 second track is playing at the same time in perfect rhythmic harmony. “Sun” also stands out, with it’s looped drums and wavey atmospheric synthesizer sounds, as Snaith repeats only “sun sun sun sun” throughout the whole song. Each time it builds to a peak and then wanes and we’re left with the beat.
With this selection of songs Caribou has proven that he’s is willing to tackle any musical challenge. If his next album sounds anything like this it will surely be a surprise. Today, less than a week after the release of Swim, iTunes is offering a remix of “Odessa” by Snaith’s good friends and electronic masters Junior Boys. I wouldn’t be surprised if singer/guitarist/songwriter Jeremy Greenspan popped his head into the studio to give Snaith a few tips during the recording of Swim.
A good musician can master one genre, but a great musician can move freely around the musical universe, and this is just what Caribou succeeds in doing on Swim.