‘Swim’ | Caribou

| Cadenza Reporter

Not all experiments go well, and Caribou’s newest album “Swim” is one such experiment. The album has its moments, but overall, the album sounds unfinished. This is Canadian Dan Snaith’s fifth solo album and his third under the moniker Caribou, with two earlier albums released under the name Manitoba. Snaith’s goal for “Swim” was to create “dance music that’s liquid in the way it flows back and forth.” But it’s easier to drown in this liquid music than to stay afloat.

“Swim” is darker than its 2007 psych-laced pop predecessor, “Andorra,” which is Snaith’s most critically acclaimed work to date and which won the Polaris Music Prize in 2008. This time, Snaith drops the ’60s bent and takes up a direct approach to electronics. But in doing so, he lacks easy entrance points to the music. His goal to create flexible, flowing music is at odds with his choice to combine it with dance music, known for its rigid structures and repetitiveness. Though this mixture is lackluster, Snaith should be recognized for his ambitious approach to music.

The first track, “Odessa,” is the album’s most accessible. It has an inviting beat, which softens the blow of the bursts of percussion. These percussions, upon multiple hearings, become essential to the song’s appeal. The fluidity of the song and Snaith’s soft voice make it easy to miss his unhappy lyrics about a breakup, exhibited in the line, “The times you hurt me, and treated me wrong/ Something had to give to stop this thing from going on.” This theme of relationship uncertainty, usually focused on the woman, continues throughout the album.

The song structure is much looser in the following songs. Next up is “Sun,” which features random creepy laughter, a wobbling baseline and the word “sun” repeated over 200 times. Equally preposterous is the fifth song on the album, “Bowls.” As the name suggests, it is made up of a ruckus of clanging bowls and random swells of harp. These ambitious but failed attempts just come across as pretentious.

The best song on the album has to be “Jamelia,” mostly because the vocals are much better. Snaith’s whiny, light vocals are replaced with Luke Lalonde of Born Ruffians, whose voice has substance. He is able to add intensity to his vocals as the song builds, something Snaith’s deadpan voice never achieves. This song also goes back to the wronged female, as it asks, “Did I not do enough to save the two of us?/ What more could I give her?/ What more can I do to see her point of view?”

“Swim” is an extensive effort to create something minimal that is overall inaccessible. Listeners have to be willing to let the album grow on them, since its nuances are not immediately evident. Snaith is obviously talented and has created something beautiful, but that does not mean it cannot be boring at the same time.

For fans of: Beach House, Four Tet and Yeasayer

Tracks to download: ‘Odessa,’ ‘Jamelia’ and ‘Kaili’

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