I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
Native Canadian Dan Snaith won the Polaris Music Prize in 2008 for Andorra, his second album under the moniker Caribou.* The prize is intended to reward the best Canadian full-length album each year, and is awarded based on a panel’s consideration of artistic merit, without regard to record sales, genre, or revenue collected. (This is in stark contrast to, say, something like the Grammy Awards, who give gold statues to artists based on a tally of how much poo a roomful of monkeys chucks at artist posters. True story. But I’m preaching to the choir.) It’s a wide open field, as the shortlist of finalists that Caribou beat included critical darlings such as Black Mountain, Kathleen Edwards, Holy Fuck, Plants and Animals, Stars, and The Weakerthans. Nice field. The award was well-deserved, as Andorra, while a departure from its predecessor The Milk of Human Kindness, delivers sweet pop hooks in an immaculately recorded psychedelic package. Milk featured far fewer vocals and was constructed primarily as a krautrock exercise in rhythm and texture, and in my opinion succeeded greatly. Andorra is a more song-based record, and it’s refreshing to see Snaith stretch and expand his repertoire and sonic palette.
*Note: Until 2004 Snaith recorded as Manitoba, but was sued by Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba of American punks The Dictators for some stupid reason. So Caribou was born. Snaith summed it up nicely: “It’s like The Smiths suing John Smith or something.”
Not that Caribou was ever accused of sounding dark or anything, but Andorra is really influenced by 1960s California pop and British Invasion. Its sunny disposition combined with its exquisitely recorded and highly energetic rhythm section (Dan Snaith has always been about the rhythm) makes the record unique when comparing it to its modern stylistic brethren such as the Elephant 6 collective (i.e. Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah, etc.), especially in that Andorra’s West Coast sound could easily be remixed for dancefloor consumption. And some tracks don’t even need a remix treatment for that. Take lead single and album opener “Melody Day” for instance. The rhythm drives from the opening guitar chimes, and gallops to the end, disrupting echoed guitar, keyboard, nimble bass, and flute flutters on its way. It’s a beautiful song, its chorus soaring to heights unmatched by The Association, for example, and it’s easily one of my favorite Caribou songs, if not my favorite of all.
“Sandy” continues the late-sixties feel, falling into prime Brian Wilson/Beach Boys territory with its loping vocal harmony and mid-tempo gait. It’s easy to picture a paisly-clad Caribou performing this song in Technicolor on Top of the Pops circa 1967, as the recording techniques employed – heavy echo, reverb, a live feel – result in a perfect reproduction of the era. “She’s the One,” with its doo wop vocal backing, is the perfect slow dance number for a sock hop. Same with shimmery slow jam “Desiree,” which is followed by probably my second favorite track on the record, the groovy psych rock goodness of “Eli.” Snaith channels Mark Mothersbaugh and his contributions to Wes Anderson’s films in “Sundialing,” the fluttery flutes and smooth horns perfect accoutrements to the whirling flower child jam. And nine-minute album-closer “Niobe” – the most Milk of Human Kindness-sounding song on the record – sounds like you’re listening to an analog radio with the dial set between two stations. Static bursts of the more rhythmic and forceful Station 2 interrupt Station 1’s softer and more meditative transmission.
Caribou’s Swim was released earlier this year, and it sounds like Snaith has returned to the dance floor with his latest, which may be where he eventually belongs. (He’s also been nominated for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize – let’s see if he can win a second.) But we’ll take the awesome psych pop sidesteps like Andorra when we can, and appreciate Dan Snaith for his willingness to experiment.
RIYL: The Association, The Beach Boys, The Clientele, Olivia Tremor Control