Caribou: Darkness on the Dance Floor | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Caribou

Darkness on the Dance Floor

Apr 02, 2010 Issue #31 - Spring 2010 - Joanna Newsom Photography by Pal Hansen Bookmark and Share


Though the last 10 years have done much to erode the stylistic divide between dance music and the innumerable rock and pop variants, the perception persists that music made for dance floors isn't quite as serious or thoughtful as music written for headphones. Lyrics, after all, are secondary in dance music; often they're the dressing for arrangements designed to bypass your brain and go straight to your body. And despite the fact that Caribou's Dan Snaith started out making dance music, the sort patented by IDM superstars Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin more than anything crafted specifically for the dance floor, he spent the majority of the last decade carefully honing his skills as a bedroom pop auteur, building dazzling towers of sound out of gorgeously cascading melodies, thundering avalanches of drums, and softly unfurling vocals. Having taken his brand of pocket psychedelia to its logical conclusion with 2007' s Andorra, Snaith has now returned to his beat-making roots with Swim, this time aiming to both move the pulse of the club with his experimental grooves and capture minds with lyrics about divorce, old age, and loneliness. 

“I’m generally a happy guy and have a great life, so it’s not the result of massive trauma,” Snaith says from his apartment in London. “But I liked the idea that those are not topics associated with dance music. I liked subverting some of the expectations about dance music by making the lyrics about divorce, which is generally not one of the topics that people dance to in the club. But, also, growing older has made me look more with a long view at what’s going on in the lives of the people around me. My two remaining grandparents passed away, and the songs aren’t about dealing with that trauma, but they are about having a more historical sense of the scale of people’s lives. In that sense, it’s the first album that has anything to do with me.”

The years since Andorra’s release have been good to Snaith. First, the album won the Polaris Music Prize, an annual award given for Canada’s best full-length release. Snaith used the $20,000 prize check to invest in studio equipment. Then, he got married and officially settled in London. Perhaps most importantly, Snaith even realized his dream of recreating his multilayered cacophony onstage, expanding his usual touring quartet to a 15-member ensemble, complete with four free jazz players who would go on to join the sessions for Swim. Having taken Andorra as far as he could, Snaith was ready to start over, abandoning the meticulous loop layering process he had perfected in favor of a more streamlined approach.

“The last record was for me so much about learning how to arrange songs properly and learning how to write proper compositions, proper songs, as poppy as I was ever going to make them,” Snaith explains. “And I didn’t want to lose that. That was something that I had enjoyed so much. But the frustrating thing for me was that that had been the real focus for me on that record, and when people heard the record—and I don’t want to sound bitter because the response was really great—but some people were like, ‘Oh yeah, I get this guy. He’s one of the ’60s retro dudes. He wears bellbottoms.’ That frustrated me. I’m such an obstinate fucker that I never want to be pigeonholed into a particular thing that I’m doing.”

Still, Snaith didn’t know exactly what his next act of reinvention would entail. Surrounded by dance producer friends in London, including close confidant Kieran Hebden of Four Tet, he began DJing nearly every weekend, often spending the week working on a new track that he would then test drive in front of an audience. Two albums started to take shape in his mind, one a new Caribou album, the other a dance album that would be released as a separate project.

“It wasn’t until right at the end, really, that I realized that the two albums were going to merge into one,” he admits. “I’d made the track ‘Bowls’ very early on, thinking I was just going to DJ with it, and people were really into it. But I’d been thinking, ‘Yeah, but this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be on the new Caribou album.’ Everything merged together, and the music I was most happy with and interested in was the stuff that I couldn’t tell, ‘Is this for me to DJ with or is this for the new Caribou record?’”

Once a ceasefire had been arranged, those two competing factions in Snaith’s head combined to make the most eclectic yet straightforward album in the Caribou catalog, one that boldly ranges from the sourly funky “Odessa” to the otherworldly “Bowls,” an ominously clanging, string-touched piece of glitch-pop minimalism. But while Snaith’s arrangements clearly assume center stage, repeated listens reveal the haunted memories of lost love (“Kaili”), dark currents of self-isolation (“Leave House”), and lonely adjustments to a solitary life (“Hannibal”) that lie underneath the sonic bliss. But with textures so dazzling and hooks so infectious, will anyone even notice?

“I wonder,” Snaith says, pausing for a moment before laughing. “Probably not.” (www.caribou.fm



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