Music Reviews

Caribou Andorra

(Merge Records) Rating - 8/10

I really enjoyed Dan Snaith's last release under the name Manitoba, called Up in Flames, which is usually listed under the Electronica heading, but is far too organic for the implications that come with the descriptor. The album remains unclassifiable, but I never really thought that "electronic" music was the starting point for Snaith. Rather, he sounded like his foundation was 60s and 70s pop, extravagantly built upon and distorted in the mode of early Brian Eno. And though it gave birth to the genre, I still don't think it's fair to label Another Green World as Electronica.

Anyway, this was my suspicion, and now with the release of Andorra under the Caribou moniker, I'm sure of it. The stunning opening song, Melody Day, seals the deal. Close your eyes and this just might be the Zombies or the Moody Blues as recalled during a particularly pleasant acid flashback. Snaith's jellied haze of production has been pared back slightly since Up in Flames, much to the benefit of strong songs like this one that don't wilt in direct sunlight. Similarly, Sandy is a gem of a throwback; the kind that Broadcast made a specialty. The reverb and the shimmer give these songs an appealing yet elusive quality, and finally the overused "dreamlike" adjective is precisely appropriate. Like dreams, the sound is at once vivid and fleeting, and there is so much going on that only snippets are absorbed before falling back into the swirling gyre. With this introduction it's not surprising that Saucerful-era Pink Floyd is effectively evoked in the next tune, After Hours. Again, we must rely on cliché's like "kaleidoscopic" and "hazy" to put these sounds into words.

The material here is Snaith at his strongest. Desiree doesn't sound like an outtake from Odyssey and Oracle, it sounds like it should have been on the album. That's how subtle and startling the harmonies are. Ok, so maybe Eli recalls the opening guitar pattern of Floyd's Let There Be More Light a little too vividly, but when someone is composing and arranging at this level of expertise, all is forgiven. And while it is true that the brilliance starts to fade slightly after this point, one must give props to the splendid 25 minutes preceding it. On the closer, Snaith stretches out for close to 9 minutes on what sounds like a long form experiment. I don't think Niobe quite comes off, though I wouldn't call it a failure. It just doesn't deliver on the intrigue it promises.

But all in all this is songwriting and sonic painting at a level comparable to its influences. Drawing on 60s psychedelia, Snaith has more and better technology at his disposal then the pioneers ever dreamed of and he uses it with an expert's touch. In its quiet way, and particularly on its first half, this is one of the best releases of the year so far.