Caribou - Swim - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Caribou - Swim

by Pete Sykes Rating:8 Release Date:2010-04-19

Andorra, the last record released by Caribou - alter-ego of Canadian musician and Maths PhD Dan Snaith - felt like the culmination of a project to reconcile meandering, melodic indie with sun-dappled electronica. It was a mostly enjoyable record, but its most surprising moment came with the last track, 'Niobe', an exhilerating, pulsating slice of trance. Swim, Snaith's fifth album as Caribou (after two as Manitoba, before that styling had to be dropped because of legal action from The Dictators frontman Richard Manitoba), picks up where 'Niobe' left off, drawing from dance music more than any of his previous work.

Opener 'Odessa' kicks off with a muscular groove and features cowbells and wah-wah guitar to enthralling effect. This kind of instrumentation can sound rather dated, but here it's kept just the right side of naff. When a spiralling keyboard figure is introduced towards the end of the song, it at first sounds random, but soon you realise that it works completely - and perhaps it's not surprising that a mathematician like Snaith is so adept at finding order in chaos.

The album is full of little touches like this that revitalise tracks which seemed to be heading nowhere. 'Sun' progresses as expected until bubbling synths lifted straight from late-90s trance transform it into something electrifying. 'Kaili' resolves into waves of electronic warmth, which are then augmented by a spot of demnted jazz saxophone. The faltering, out-of-time guitar riff on 'Found Out' is utterly brilliant, again seeming random at first listen - wrong and yet so right. And so it goes on. The sweeps of acoustic guitar that open 'Bowls' are lush, but then they are taken over by a sinister, rumbling bassline, the two seemingly opposed elements working perfectly together. Likewise closer 'Jamelia', whose dischordant stabs of strings and harpsichord add a spine-tingling edge to the morose electro-ballad.

One of the striking things about Swim is the way that each gorgeous track seems to unfold organically, only to have Snaith attack them with unexpected sounds and melodies. It's almost like he's a mad professor and he has each song tied up in his underground laboratory as he passes electric shocks through them just to see what happens. But the experimentation here is not random - this is clearly a meticulously assembled piece of work, and each jolt sends the music in a new, unexpected and often thrilling direction. Snaith's sweet, reedy, vulnerable voice - reminiscent on more than one occasion of Arthur Russell - provides a constant of sorts, but even that is subjected to countless effects and treatments. The restless inventiveness displayed on Swim is refreshing - and an increasingly rare quality in a musical culture that too often seems content merely to exhume corpses from the 80s and 90s, apply a bit of lipstick, and then parade them around town. Snaith, meanwhile, like a musical Dr. Frankenstein, is at work in his basement, cackling wildly as he brings them to life.

Pete Sykes

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