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Album Review

by Caribou

Merge / City Slang / Shock

Review Date
Reviewed by
Paul Gallagher

Dan Snaith has long been hard to tie down – with both his previous incarnation as Manitoba and earlier releases as Caribou proving he’s indiscriminate about what mantle of which particular genre he’s ready to occupy at any given time. Swim is by no means different – a marked difference from 2007’s pop splendour Andorra and complete step away from the Krautrock-fused folds and cul-de-sacs of 2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness.

If record label twaddle is to be believed, Swim is Snaith’s attempt to create a formative type of dance music that is made from water. Well, other than the title of the album there’s little to suggest that any more aqueous-laden that the constructs of Andorra but it’s an extended metaphor I’ll gladly employ throughout this review. What Swim achieves, simply said, is dance pop at its shameless best. It’s marked by washes of synth, drum machine loops, filtered reverb and pitch, as well as disciplined sampling of flutes and horns. There’s a dark distortion of purity within these tracks however – a seeming lack of distinction between what boundaries each pop-originated or dance-borne premise should be respecting.

Snaith does seem to have something on his mind – shying away from the gilded bliss of albums past, he’s completely enveloped by the problems, the plague of relationship troubles. He’s disputing loneliness while living within it, drowning with judgements of ‘her’ without recognizing the dark clouds of self-loathing and regret waiting ready to lay him waste with a downpour so dank and intense he’ll not be able to react before the puddle’s already at his chin. This glum misery is wholly reflected in the constructs of each and every track on Swim – evoking melancholic similarities to a long-time collaborator and artistic colleague Four Tet’s Keiran Hebden. There’s a gloomy bent towards unfussy yet thorough downbeat house, and even shades of techno at times.

There are marked traces of other musician’s hands playing a part in Snaith’s grand vision – as always he’s brought in heavy hitters to forge the exacting and meticulous sound that he desires. Current Toronto-based free jazz / improv stalwarts contribute hugely to the heavy weight of thought behind Swim - trombonist Steve Ward (Miami Rice) features on over half of the album’s tracks, with Rob Piilonen (also having featured with Peaches and up and comers the Dom) playing flute, and Colin Fisher (worked with the Constantines and Pinback) on tenor sax, and prolific composer and saxophonist Kyle Brenders also lending a hand. Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan mixes three of the album’s tracks with an apt coexistence of pop sensibilities.

It’s hard to consider the tracks as being separated from their collective voice of un-siphoned or albeit un-quenching satisfaction, but there do exist a number of notable songs that stand apart from the rest. Album opener and single Odessa is obviously one for its sheer infectiousness, laying an aural foundation to which the rest of the album reacts – ‘She’s tired of crying, and sick of his lies… Who knows what she’s going to say?’ The album closer Jamelia ends on a high of intensity – with Born Ruffians’ Luke Lalonde singing ‘I can’t take it no more’ to a swirling, messed composition of anguished musicianship that ends almost with a dousing of metronome through which we have to wait until the album simply ends with no obvious signs of resolution.

While Dan Snaith’s relationships may be in tatters (well, if the blunt suggestions of the album can be believed) Swim is an utter victory for one thing at least – composition. Snaith’s mathematical approach to music simply shines on this latest release, proving yet again that though he’s surrounded by many of his peers there’s plenty that sets him apart from the rest. If you consider that this album may act as the darker accompanying album to his altogether-happier and Polaris Prize-winning last release Andorra, you can bet that accolades for Swim might soon well be flowing.

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