CANADA: Swim - Caribou
Crowd-pleasing electronic music with an experimental edge that makes it a cut above the average
Caribou is the stage name of Canadian electronic musician Dan Snaith, who has also recorded under the pseudonyms of Daphni and Manitoba, the latter he dropped as an artistic name due to a lawsuit from an American musician named Richard Manitoba. As such, he adopted another suitably Canadian moniker. The other name Daphni is one he simply uses as a name for what he terms ‘dancefloor ready’ music. His music on Swim, his fifth album overall and the third credited directly to his Caribou stage name may seem like it too is dancefloor ready, but it is also more complex than most of the electronic music that is geared towards getting people dancing. Swim takes the listener in a musical journey which is full of musical complexity and surprising compositions. With an album like this, Snaith is demonstrating that he is happy to create music that can be used at a mixing desk, whilst also being consumed at home for active and deep listens. In the past, electronic music has often been the refuge for musicians seeking to break new ground and to create new sounds that can hopefully define and inspire a new generation of musicians – think Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, or Aphex Twin – but it is also used as a vehicle for danceable fun. Snaith smartly positions himself snugly in between those two extremes.
“What defines the album best is its unwillingness to be categorised in any manner beyond, perhaps, the catch-all term electronic music.”
Like many albums, Swim kicks off with its best track. Odessa is mysterious and occasionally unnerving song that invites repeated listens. When its descending bassline, echoey percussion, and repetitive synth sounds that sound like shrieks and cries mix in with the almost nonchalant singing, it feels like it is almost a pastiche of indie pop songs as it combines a repetitive and memorable chorus with distinctive and startling music accompaniment. It’s something of a triumph. The following tracks Sun and Kaili take us into more familiar territory, as both are a riff on the house music genre, yet both still retain that typical element that defines Snaith’s song writing on this album – distinctive synth riffs that act as auditory hooks. Bowls may be the most musically adventurous and interesting track, as it uses bell and harp sounds to forge unusual rhythms, and time signatures that feel somewhat ‘off’. The song feels unsettled and unsettling, but it makes for a fascinating listen. Snaith then follows this brooding track with the most pop-oriented songs on the album, Leave House and Hannibal. This serves as a palate cleanser from the previous songs, and it changes the energy of the record. Overall, the variety of styles and various changes of pace on the album make for a fascinating listening experience, especially when listened to as an album.
Snaith proves himself to be an accomplished musician on Swim, as he shows off his skills as a songwriter of catchy electronica, but also as a musician who wants to push the boundaries of the genres he finds himself creating. There’s elements of techno, house, and psychedelia throughout this album, often all three in the same song, but what defines the album best is its unwillingness to be categorised in any manner beyond, perhaps, the catch-all term electronic music. There are songs that lean one way more than another, but overall Snaith’s peripatetic music tastes allow this album to be more than just a fun electronic album, or more than just an experimentally interesting one. In his capable hands the album can be simply a fun listen (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) on a passive listen or in a nightclub, and yet it can also transform into an intricate mix of styles that come together as an organic whole.