CARIBOU: ANDORRA (2007)
1) Melody Day; 2) Sandy; 3) After Hours; 4) She's The One; 5) Desiree; 6) Eli; 7) Sundialing; 8) Irene; 9) Niobe.
I suppose that some time in the distant future, when man's memory will be sufficiently enhanced to enlarge the artistic pantheon to astronomic sizes, this album will go down as Snaith's masterpiece. On the other hand, if at the same time man's capacity for emotional abstractionism also happens to be increased, so that the halls of MoMA and Beaubourg begin to resonate with sincerely shed tears of joy and wonder, Andorra's status might be challenged — because in 2007, it was the most «retro-sounding» and «sonically conservative» album that the man had produced to date. It was probably bound to happen, eventually, as artistic growth and evolution stimulated Caribou to embrace them good old values of late Sixties' / early Seventies' art-pop and symph-prog — without forgetting to integrate them with modern electronic technologies and production values, of course, but make no mistake about it: at the core of Andorra you find melodic content with a collective stamp of approval from Brian Wilson, Arthur Lee, Rod Argent, and even Jon Anderson (I hope they don't mind me speaking for them in this case).
The man pulls no punches whatsoever with this shift of style: without any atmospheric build-ups or warm-ups, ʽMelody Dayʼ opens the album crash-boom-bang style, with a driving rhythm, a bass-guitar-keyboard baroque-pop melody, and dreamy melodic vocals whose only purpose seems to be to recreate the tender idealism of 1967-68 right here and now. It's bouncy, it's tasteful (watch out for them flutes and quasi-Mellotrons!), it's melancholic, it's well performed and produced, it's catchy — yes, it's a ghola of a song instead of the real thing, but you wouldn't even know that if you took it out of its context. In any case, it reflects perfect craftsmanship that Dan's previous output only hinted at, and it would be very impolite to state or even suspect that his heart was not properly in it.
The amazing thing is how he manages to crush the wall of biased scepticism — just as you think, «okay, he made this one good song and put it in the beginning to stun us, the rest will probably be boring soulless facsimiles, haven't we seen enough of these retro-freaks who honestly love old time music but lack the talent to properly recreate it?», he strolls on with ʽSandyʼ, a slower, but equally pretty upbeat love ballad that does not simply mimick the atmosphere of some Zombies masterpiece, but cares about intricacies and subtleties of vocal modulation: just listen to the way lines like "you can't believe me... like all of the others who leave me..." aim for your attention with a delirious falsetto flourish delivered in one heavenly swoop. Damn, that's seductive!
There's no way that the "and you and I will follow down the street" opening line of ʽAfter Hoursʼ is not a subtle reference to "and you and I climb over the sea to the valley", either, even if the song itself is too drone-based to properly sound like classic Yes — but no matter, the overall psychedelic-idealistic vision of some perfect world beyond regular human experience remains the same. If there's one thing that genuinely separates this music from its faraway ancestors, it is that little bit of shoegazing quasi-ambience that Snaith adds to many of the songs — like the chorus to ʽShe's The Oneʼ, jolting on one chord and one repetitive vocal phrase, something that both the Zombies and Yes would have probably found too tedious — but then again, if you are amalgamating the Zombies and Yes in one package, you might as well throw in some Cocteau Twins and some Slowdive, why not?
If there's a possible problem to be found, one could look for it in the general similarity of the tone and the arrangement details on most of the tracks — not that the same problem cannot be conjured for Pet Sounds or anything — but even that is somehow taken care of in the last track: the 8-minute «epic» ʽNiobeʼ is based on a soft techno groove, with Snaith's electronic arsenal finally unleashed on us in all its might, and just about every synth tone at his disposal partaking in the melee. It's not the best track on the album, but it is the most experimental, and although I fail to see what exactly this bunch of stylistically diverse synthesized sonic comets whooshing past the main body of the groove has to do with Niobe (do they represent her 14 dead children, or Apollo's and Artemis' arrows, or what?), I cannot deny the buzzing psychedelic effect, especially when you play this real loud in headphones. And even then, the vocals ("I fall so far, I fall so far...") are still old school art-pop to some extent.
Actually, it is not the instrumental monotonousness that worries me but the emotional monotonousness — all of the tracks being dominated by the same flavor of «optimistic sadness», like a never ending goodbye with faint hopes of saying hello once more in the distant future. To Dan's honor, he is able to escape the common trap of optimistically sad indie-pop sung by bearded men in furry hats — simply by being a better composer and arranger than most. But you do have to accept that he will be communicating pretty much the same mood, differing by the subtlest of subtle nuances, over and over and over; the fact that, for me at least, upon the third listen this ceased to be boring only goes to show how much real talent he has. I do hope the record was a big hit in Andorra, because there's hardly any reason to be called that unless the man wanted to conquer an additional 85,000 head strong market — but even though I'm no citizen of Andorra myself, I am glad to throw in my thumbs up as well, for extra international endorsement.