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Friday, July 15, 2016

Caribou: Swim


1) Odessa; 2) Sun; 3) Kaili; 4) Found Out; 5) Bowls; 6) Leave House; 7) Hannibal; 8) Lalibela; 9) Jamelia.

Bad move, brother. Somebody must have heard Andorra and said, «Hey Dan, I like what you're doing and all, but this is frickin' granddad-pop here, surely you're not willing to forget that the world has moved on a bit in the last fifty years? And didn't you used to be like an electronica guy and stuff like that? What's up with this quasi-Zombies shit?» And for all we know, the «some­body» in question could have been Dan himself.

Anyway, the fact is that Swim sounds nothing like Andorra, but neither does it return properly to the stylistics of Snaith's Manitoba period, when he was wondering what would avantgarde jazz sound like if you programmed it into computers. Instead, Swim straightforwardly plunges into dance-pop territory — almost everything here is in the soft house / techno ballpark, even though some non-electronic instrumentation is retained (electric guitars, harps, bells, whatever) and the vocals reflect Dan's usual psycho-folk sweetness instead of being suitably robotized for the elec­tronic palette. In other words, this is truly the sound of somebody who suddenly awoke to the fact of «slipping into the past» and is now desperately scrambling back to catch up with the present.

And I feel really torn about this. On one hand, Swim is not entirely «anti-Caribou»: all the tracks reflect a very high level of craft — they build up, they look for unusual instrumental combina­tions, they really want to synthesize classic elements of art-rock and psychedelia with modern electronic rhythms and produce a sort of «art-dance-pop», think a Pet Shop Boys collaboration with Rod Argent. But on the other hand, all of this is done at the expense of the heart-gripping hooks of Andorra — it's a record I could learn to live and respect, but I could never ever have any «intimate» relationship with it, if you do know what I mean.

I will not go any further than the first (and, apparently, one of the most revered by the album's fans) track here, which is called ʽOdessaʼ for some reason, even though it brings on no associa­tions whatsoever with either the Black Sea or the Bee Gees. It's funky, ruled by over by a thick burping bassline and further populated with ghostly high-pitched wails, bell sets, and a vocal part that tries to evoke feelings of sadness and compassion for the female protagonist — "she's tired of cryin' and sick of his lies". It's a technically impressive piece of work, and it could work, but... somehow, I don't believe that it does. It's not «creepy» — the entire atmosphere is too bouncy, light, inoffensive for that. It's not «melancholic» — melancholic moods aren't usually associated with funky dance rhythms. It's not «tender» — the synth wails and the bells and the deep bass prevent you from mellowing out properly. So what is it? I'm not sure. At least Andorra exuded a definite aura of kindness and warmth, but here this aura seems to have been corrupted and dissi­pated, as if he wanted to make a track that sounded warm-friendly-optimistic and dark-hostile-pessimistic at the same time, but in the end the two sides simply outcancel each other.

Unfortunately, it just does not get better: all I experience while the record is on is a sense of con­fusion and disorientation. Some tracks lend themselves easier to interpretation ­— ʽSunʼ, for in­stance, where the vocals are limited to a single endlessly swirling sample of "sun, sun, sun...", is like an electronic prayer to the light, accompanied with a dance ritual routine; even so, I feel routinely bored with its electronic psychedelia which, despite all the painstaking overdubs, does not sound like anything I have not already heard a hundred times before done better by «legiti­mate» techno artists. Other tracks seem to operate on the one-idea principle: ʽLeave Houseʼ, for instance — take this single flute phrase and loop it to infinity, then throw on whatever comes into your head at the moment. Very modern, very spontaneous, very tiring.

On a particularly good day, I could just express my usual respect to the level of craft and leave it at that; but I do tend to work in context, and it really pisses me off how, upon having released a near-perfect synthesis of modern sensitivity and ancient influences of Andorra, the guy just had to go ahead and spoil it all to hell. Feel free to disagree in this case (I can actually try to under­stand people who get their full set of kicks from this kind of music), but as of now, this is such a disappointing downer that thumbs down seem like the only possible option.


  1. I remember being disappointed when this came out. I like it more now, and I do feel an emotional connection to "Odessa" and "Kaili," but I would still agree with you that too much of Andorra was left behind.

    P.S.: I've been reading your reviews for a long time now, thanks for introducing me to so much music.

  2. This is one of the greatest artistic's achievments of the 2000's:

    How can you say that? Boringness is not an excuse for not delivering yourself more to the play.

  3. No offense at all. Love your blog,

    xo xo