Brain-Teasing 

Caribou twists your melon with intelligent psych-pop

by Tony WareIt’s rare to find musicians who don’t claim to put blood, sweat and tears into their craft.
It’s rare to find musicians who don’t claim to put blood, sweat and tears into their craft. Dan Snaith, however, is offering to bring something a bit more extreme to the table.

“Do you know what black pudding is?” asks the kooky but congenial musician, known to most as Caribou, over brunch in Brooklyn. “It’s like blood, ground meat, a little bit of sauce. So, say I am going to make a black pudding with my blood. Would you eat it?”

Sure, some would say being a musician is all about spilling your guts for people to feed upon—and Snaith has gone that route over seven years and four euphorically tense, percussion-punctuated albums of psych-pop, the latest being Andorra. But this black pudding talk is something else entirely.

Maybe Snaith is tired and wired, or maybe he is just trying to make me feel uncomfortable after being put on the spot by a game of “Bed, Wed, Dead,” during which he is asked which of his good pals and fellow electrocoustic musicians the Junior Boys, Four Tet and Russian Futurists he would screw, marry or kill. (The sidestepping answer is that he’d have sex with all of them if he were not already married.) Maybe Snaith has an insatiable bloodlust. (He did say he’d try my blood were I to try his.) Maybe the fact that he’s Canadian but lives in London is to blame.

What’s more likely is that Snaith, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, is a genuine academic. Today he is attempting to determine the formula by which my system of values works, while I do the same to him. So we discuss more theoretical situations, more killing in the abstract, how installation art shifts the value of space, and the pros and cons of growing a tour beard.

While these may sound like tangents and novelty questions, eventually the subjects begin to coalesce. The recurring theme of our conversation is persistence, a paced study in composition. Andorra, like all of Snaith’s albums, rewards the patient, even as it proves itself his loosest collection of arrangements.

The disc’s first song, “Melody Day,” comes across like prime Electric Prunes riding a Can-ny wave of percussion. Balmier tracks such as “She’s the One” or “Eli” graft Dennis Wilson and Elliott Smith’s multipart harmonies onto a freakbeat glide, while “Irene” and “Niobe” do blissed-out and palpitating in turn. Snaith is a bedroom producer who plays every warbling whistle, burbling synth and shimmering sleigh bell on Andorra (save for a guest vocal by the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan on “She’s the One,” a single recently released with remixes from Hot Chip and Environ’s Kelly Polar, who turn the plumed track’s melodic thermals into cannily detuning electro-disco and a waxy helix of spoken word and lysergic capillaries, respectively). Snaith also programs slow-cooked songs in the tradition of the Zombies, Silver Apples or Lothar and the Hand People, making them redolent with oscillating details. It’s a constant, compounding method.

Live, however, Caribou extends its reach to eight arms and an even more immersive intent, a collection of smeared sounds that emulsify into a supple thwack (à la Wire, perhaps). When asked to describe what being a touring musician means to him, Snaith gives as close to a straightforward answer as he’s capable: “It’s like being a moving company...literally moving sounds and gear...and lifting people up a little bit.”

Said like a man who wants to transfuse a little bit of himself, even his blood, into any takers.

It’s rare to find musicians who don’t claim to put blood, sweat and tears into their craft. Dan Snaith, however, is offering to bring something a bit more extreme to the table.

“Do you know what black pudding is?” asks the kooky but congenial musician, known to most as Caribou, over brunch in Brooklyn. “It’s like blood, ground meat, a little bit of sauce. So, say I am going to make a black pudding with my blood. Would you eat it?”

Sure, some would say being a musician is all about spilling your guts for people to feed upon—and Snaith has gone that route over seven years and four euphorically tense, percussion-punctuated albums of psych-pop, the latest being Andorra. But this black pudding talk is something else entirely.

Maybe Snaith is tired and wired, or maybe he is just trying to make me feel uncomfortable after being put on the spot by a game of “Bed, Wed, Dead,” during which he is asked which of his good pals and fellow electrocoustic musicians the Junior Boys, Four Tet and Russian Futurists he would screw, marry or kill. (The sidestepping answer is that he’d have sex with all of them if he were not already married.) Maybe Snaith has an insatiable bloodlust. (He did say he’d try my blood were I to try his.) Maybe the fact that he’s Canadian but lives in London is to blame.

What’s more likely is that Snaith, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, is a genuine academic. Today he is attempting to determine the formula by which my system of values works, while I do the same to him. So we discuss more theoretical situations, more killing in the abstract, how installation art shifts the value of space, and the pros and cons of growing a tour beard.

While these may sound like tangents and novelty questions, eventually the subjects begin to coalesce. The recurring theme of our conversation is persistence, a paced study in composition. Andorra, like all of Snaith’s albums, rewards the patient, even as it proves itself his loosest collection of arrangements.

The disc’s first song, “Melody Day,” comes across like prime Electric Prunes riding a Can-ny wave of percussion. Balmier tracks such as “She’s the One” or “Eli” graft Dennis Wilson and Elliott Smith’s multipart harmonies onto a freakbeat glide, while “Irene” and “Niobe” do blissed-out and palpitating in turn. Snaith is a bedroom producer who plays every warbling whistle, burbling synth and shimmering sleigh bell on Andorra (save for a guest vocal by the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan on “She’s the One,” a single recently released with remixes from Hot Chip and Environ’s Kelly Polar, who turn the plumed track’s melodic thermals into cannily detuning electro-disco and a waxy helix of spoken word and lysergic capillaries, respectively). Snaith also programs slow-cooked songs in the tradition of the Zombies, Silver Apples or Lothar and the Hand People, making them redolent with oscillating details. It’s a constant, compounding method.

Live, however, Caribou extends its reach to eight arms and an even more immersive intent, a collection of smeared sounds that emulsify into a supple thwack (à la Wire, perhaps). When asked to describe what being a touring musician means to him, Snaith gives as close to a straightforward answer as he’s capable: “It’s like being a moving company...literally moving sounds and gear...and lifting people up a little bit.”

Said like a man who wants to transfuse a little bit of himself, even his blood, into any takers.

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