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Friday, June 17, 2016

Caribou (Manitoba): Start Breaking My Heart

CARIBOU (MANITOBA): START BREAKING MY HEART (2001)

1) Dundas, Ontario; 2) People Eating Fruit; 3) Mammals Vs. Reptiles; 4) Brandon; 5) Children Play Well Together; 6) Lemon Yoghourt; 7) James' Second Haircut; 8) Schedules & Fares; 9) Paul's Birthday; 10) Happy Ending.

I know relatively little about the thing called «jazztronica» or «nu jazz», but if the most typical artists in that style happen to be Amon Tobin and Flying Lotus, whose works are quite familiar to me, then I'm happy to say that on this album, Mr. Dan Snaith, a 23-year old artist hailing from Dundas, Ontario who used to call himself Manitoba before cruel life forced him to change this to Caribou — anyway, on this album Mr. Dan «Manitoba» Snaith sort of invents his own subgenre of jazztronica, which we might just as well call «kiddie-jazztronica».

Yes, he would go on to far more accessible and seriously different things, but he did start out as a self-made electronic composer, and one with a vision all his own, even if that vision remains on a scale so humble that «nice and pretty» is probably the strongest reaction that may be honestly ex­perienced when listening to this stuff. Snaith's primary tool throughout is a softly tuned, warbled synthesizer — producing muffled, Fender Rhodes-like electric piano sounds, as well as various chiming textures, so that the entire record has a bright, sunshine-like feel, enhanced by occasional usage of equally soft and calm acoustic guitars and harps; as for percussion, he is normally con­tent to stick to the most «primitive» of drum machines, often imitating jazzy brush technique or Indian tablas, and sometimes probably sampling Snaith's own drumming.

If all of this were played as «normal» jazz, the album would hardly hold any interest for anybody; it is the astute combination of analog and digital elements that makes it what it is — a series of impressionistic musical paintings that combine jazzy vivaciousness with friendly hi-tech and a certain childish innocence. The whole thing is a hustle-bustle, but one that seems to take place right under your nose, without any attempts to separate the background from the foreground or create additional sonic depth through echoes, tricky mixing, and rich layers of overdubs. What you have is simple, loud, but inobtrusive melodies — playful and careless in tone, but not alto­gether insubstantial. Why they should necessarily be associated with Canada (the first track is ʽDundas, Ontarioʼ — Snaith's homeland) remains somewhat of a mystery, as does the album's title, because there is absolutely nothing heartbreaking about the music: but chalk it up to the necessity of the Artistic Enigma, quite forgivable in the face of the overall loveliness of the sound anyway, and let us just evaluate the music on its own terms, regardless of whatever the artist wants, because now it is out of his hands anyway.

So, in this alternate unreal reality, ʽDundas, Ontarioʼ is a place symbolized by several meditative «electric piano» lines criss-crossed with a toe-tappy xylophone part — two voices, one pensive and intimate, another one playful and arrogant, a Florestan and a Eusebius of sorts. This trick is later reprised in different varieties — for instance, the interplay between the somewhat dreary, continuous keyboard parts and the jumpy folksy acoustic guitars of ʽChildren Play Wellʼ, or the dreamy psychedelic synths and the jerky jazzy bassline of ʽSchedules & Faresʼ — and provides the bulk of sheer entertainment. In any case, this is a very active record: there is not a single track that would not have a lively rhythmic base or at least a second, dynamic, voice that stands out in stark con­trast to the more ambient/static loops of the first one.

The most active track is ʽLemon Yoghourtʼ, which somebody on RYM aptly called "a great track to jerk off to", not because it has the word "lemon" in it, but because the music itself does sound like it invites you to, ahem, «squeeze your lemon» for about two minutes, with a very insistent multi-channel keyboard loop that might just sound like the speedy dripping of lemon juice, but who knows... anyway, sexual innuendos aside, it's a fun sound, and the track is quite strategically placed at the middle of the album, guaranteed to wake you up if you accidentally fall asleep on one of the longer tracks, like ʽPeople Eating Fruitʼ (which does not at all sound like people eating fruit, unless you take all the crackly glitching in the background to be symbolic of gnashing teeth and suckling lips — but it does sound like a joyful morning prayer-ritual conducted by a bunch of shiny happy people who probably do eat a lot of fruit).

Longest of all is ʽPaul's Birthdayʼ, a track that could probably act like a perfect sampler for the rest of the album, because it's got it all — a cute combo between digital and analog (there's a nice harp glissando acting as the track's main hook), all of the man's beloved synth tones, jazzy bass­lines and bits of modal brass soloing, and even a surprisingly funky arrangement of digital glit­ches replacing the bass groove for a period of time. I have no idea who the heck is Paul, but I do know that he got himself a fairly unique birthday present here.

The closest vocal analogy to this record would probably be something like contemporary Broad­cast albums, but even those would either have more «depth» or more «grief» to them — the ad­vantage of Start Breaking My Heart is its total and complete cuddliness, which never gets sickening due to the technical mastery of the artist, and provides you with yet another charming advertisement for the paradisiac qualities of Canada (an imaginary Canada, one should always add before the charmed listener actually starts packing). There might not be enough memorable melodic themes here to assert compositional greatness, but the overall sound of the record, once you let it seep in, is unforgettable, and definitely deserving its thumbs up.

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