Album Reviews

Album Review: Caribou – Swim (Universal/Cooperative Music/City Slang)

By | Published on Wednesday 5 May 2010


The Ontario-born Dan Snaith originally recorded two albums under the pseudonym Manitoba, before the threat of legal action prompted a change to the more pastoral, peaceful sounding Caribou. Whilst his earlier albums were associated with the burgeoning folktronica genre, which was flavour of the month in the early years of the century, the psychedelic-influenced ‘Andorra’ (2007) proved a watershed moment for Snaith. It could almost have been a lost record from the late 1960s. He changes tack once more with ‘Swim’, investigating trends in past and contemporary dance music culture and allowing them to influence what he laid down on ‘Andorra’.

Lead single ‘Odessa’ sounds like a 1980s uptempo Arthur Russell production; even the vocals are a dead ringer for Russell’s wistful tones. The prominent bassline gives way to flute and subtle use of guitar. This is an electronic record that uses much more diverse instrumentation than you’d imagine. ‘Sun’ features the kind of jazz-influenced percussion that his friend, Kieren Hebden (aka Four Tet), is widely known for, as well as more woozy, seasick snatches of synths.

Whilst ‘Swim’ probably lacks the obvious immediate punch of ‘Andorra’, there are probably more ideas and sounds within this record than its predecessor, although whether it feels quite as coherent is another matter. It’s not that the album leaps in different directions from one track to another, but individual tracks themselves refuse to be rooted and effortlessly change at a second’s notice. There are still plenty of great moments; the flute-led ‘Leave House’ returns to Arthur Russell territory, whilst ‘Jamelia’ is less a tribute to the R&B singer but a densely textured, downtempo piece of electronica.

As you might imagine from a recent PhD graduate in mathematics, ‘Swim is more meticulously prepared and produced than anything Snaith’s worked on previously and demonstrates a rich understanding of dance music in its many forms, most of which find their way into this album. KW

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