Caribou - Our Love

by Ethan Ranis Rating:8.5 Release Date:2014-10-06

Caribou's breakthrough album, Andorra, had cover art that matched the album: a picture of flowers in brilliant sunshine, reflecting the bright psychedelic pop within. The follow-up, Swim, was dance music designed to evoke water. Our Love, Dan Snaith's first album under the Caribou moniker in four years (after a brief sojourn under the even more dance-oriented psuedonym Daphni), is a deep sea-dive, to the parts of the ocean that bioluminescent oddities call home.

Snaith places equal emphasis on songwriting and production, and the latter choices here are a new turn for him. Between the minimalist design, quirky use of looped vocal snippets, and heavy reverb, this bears more in common with the spare, futurist R&B practiced by Miguel and Frank Ocean than Andorra's Brian Wilson homages. Much like those R&B albums, this record rewards close listening and repeat spins; there are new levels of minute detail to be discovered on each new go around.  It took three listens just to grasp the multiple layers of shimmering synth-strings and  whirring pads that burst to life toward the end of 'Silver'.

The other influence is old-school techno, evident in the drum-machines, filter sweeps, and analog synthesizers that dominate the album, as well as the persistent four-on-the-floor house beats that most tracks feature. Some of the most fascinating moments on the album blend both influences, such as the title track's mix of Detroit rhythm patterns, vocal tics, and blaxploitation string flourishes. Other songs take standard pop song structures and warp them beyond recognition: 'Second Chance' begins with standard female vox straight from the 90s, but the dizzying, almost nauseous chord changes that follow are anything but typical.

Some of the most maximal moments on the album actually come during the instrumentals. 'Dive''s constantly fluctuating lead-line presides over a growling bassline, a chattering vocal sample, and a wide variety of instruments that constantly shift textures. 'Julia Brightly's uptempo house beat is merely the backdrop for some downright brain-bending pitch-shifts and filter sweeps. Meanwhile, dense, percussive polyrhythms dominate 'Mars', creating a propulsive backdrop for the flute-like keyboards that provide its melody; it sounds like Kieran Hebden dropped in for a quick jam session.

Of course, Snaith himself sings on many tracks, but his falsetto here is curiously delicate, even timid at times. It's as if he's trying to avoid waking the neighbors. 'All I Ever Need' is perhaps a prime example of the detached effect this sometimes leads to; even lyrics like "I can't take it/ the way you treat me wrong" sound less like protest than retreat. More often, Snaith lets the vocal samples carry the force for him; 'Can't Do Without You's clipped soul sample has enough emotion to drive home the song's message, and when combined with Snaith's etheral vocals it sounds almost like a duet despite them both repeating the title phrase.

There's even more to talk about on this album, partially because it contains so many interesting moments, such as the brief codas on several tracks that drift off toward unexplored paths, or the effect of the split-second guitar strum accents on closer 'Your Love Will Set You Free'. Our Love's strangeness and negative space can initially seem alienating, but the deeper a listener dives into it, the more there is to discover.

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