Sunday, May 16, 2010

Caribou, "Swim"

I get the feeling that a lot of people are still waiting for Caribou to step out from under the shadow of his breakthrough album "Up In Flames". Why does that album stand out so much? The first Caribou album (released as Manitoba) was a pleasant little Boards of Canada clone, while "Up In Flames" (also under the name Manitoba) was a completely unpredictable about-face. Leaping from IDM to an album of 60's-drenched psychedelic pop was quite the surprise, and people remember surprises. Years later, one can naively view "Up In Flames" as a convenient precursor to the freak-folk records that people would be tripping over themselves to praise for about five minutes in the mid 00's. It's kind of like how some dance music with tenuous links to electroclash still gets fawned over, even though the it was popular for maybe four months (and sucked, for the most part). People seemed to pine for the Caribou sound of '03 when they heaped praise upon "Andorra", which was largely a retread of "Up In Flames" with a few more bleeps thrown in. And of course, every 00's poll seemed to definitely prove that every major artists' best work was released from 2000-2004. Nothing they put out from 2005-2009 could top it.

"Up In Flames" was far too homogeneous to be a great album. "The Milk of Human Kindness" was a great album -- part psych-rock, part Animal Collective sit-down jam (back when they used to do that sort of thing), part faux-Can white funk. But "Swim" is even better. It is far and away the best Caribou album. You want surprises? How about "Odessa" pulling off modern-day space disco better than Lindstrom ever managed after eight years of trying? How about "Bowls", which masquerades as an dubbed-out early Death in Vegas number until the 80's house licks unexpectedly show up? And what can you possibly say about "Kaili"? After countless listens, I still can't place what I'm hearing. I hear some "Technique"-era New Order in some of its sun-drenched, hedonistic melodies, but the last two minutes fall into a blizzard of free jazz squawks -- its another combination that shouldn't possibly work, but inexplicably does. Its fraternal twin, "Lalibela", is a throwback to Flowchart's version of lo-fi shoegazer house, with "Kaili"'s vocal melodies recycled in achingly maudlin form at the close of the track.

If juxtaposing such a curiously bizarre mishmash of styles was really so easy, then we'd all be doing it. Instead, we'll have to settle for listening to "Swim" and trying to pick up on the master's clues.

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