Album Review: Caribou – Swim




Caribou has always been beautifully trippy. Since they appeared on the scene, the albums have evolved, but have always remained richly textured, with layers of simple guitar rhythms accented by minimalist electronics and the occasional drum sample. The vocals, a few steps away from a whisper, add a ghostly quality to this hypnotic, bohemian post-rock, whether reverberated or vocoded. It was music that never wanted to jump out at you; instead, it was happy to lull you into a colorful trance. With Daniel Snaith’s new effort, Swim, however, he’s found a way to re-work the heady jams into something you’d want to dance to, Caribou-induced haze and all.

With all the hype of using electronic samplers to re-invent one’s sound, Snaith chose to look at the same instruments he’d been using all along and see what else he could do with them. What would happen if he made a more focused record, and not just another big musical acid trip? The answer is revealed from the get-go. With a whomping bass line, the album opens its slightly-80’s-reinvented self with “Odessa”. The song is much more pop-friendly than Snaith’s usually put out, but with rattling percussion and fluttering woodwinds, it’s still got the old Caribou feel. The vocals get a touch-up too, remaining distant, but getting much cleaner, and, for the first time, you get to hear what he really sounds like.

With all the new style cues coming through on this record, you’re enticed to move from one track to the next. Snaith has always been able to do that, varying his songs and easily keeping his music interesting. “Sun” sees a trip-hop side with live drums, waving synths, and heavy reverberating vocals. He then takes the next step into the house-influenced “Kaili”, which builds and builds around a swirling melody for a climax that’s not actually there. Altogether it’s hippy-dance-hall in “Bowls”, rattling tribal rhythm as the peak ass-shaker of the record.

The flower-rock element isn’t totally dead for Caribou, but it’s hidden quite well amongst the down-notes and cymbals. While the charming, fluttering instrumentals were left behind, the heavier feel lends itself quite well to further dig out a niche for Caribou. The style shift shouldn’t be too much of a shock, though. Tracks like the closing two from his last record, 2007’s Andorra, gave a hint of things to come, and now it’s what the new record sticks to, only crisper. And, like the rest of his previous records, Swim is just a little bit different, leading from and building on where the last left off, even if that was three years ago.

While Snaith’s previous works were all great in their own right, the direction he seemed to be heading was putting a cap on his music way before its time was up. Toting around songs like “Leave House” or “Odessa” give Caribou a new lease on life, and stand right along with already great tracks like “Melody Day” or “After Hours”. They also still carry his penchant for percussion, with each one featuring outstanding work on the kit and whatever else he found to bang on. By keeping his sound moving from record to record, you get to hear Snaith continue to find his identity as a musician. While there are a few big stand-out tracks, the rest lend themselves more as personal experiments that end up being hard to stick to. However, something is building inside Snaith. You can feel it, and when it comes… watch out.