Tag Archives: Caribou

The Year. 6. If I can’t be the man, tell me what I am.

6. Caribou – Swim [CA]

Musicians tend to get angry, frustrated or at least dismissive when blogs and the music press try to do what they do and draw big Venn loops around different albums, creating scenes, comparing trends and branding one or two adjectives onto a band’s whole creative output. Some are very leery of trying to categorise themselves, of breeding that type of discourse. But of course, it’s going to happen anyway. And sometimes it works. In the press release for Swim, there was a quote included that dominated everything written about it afterwards and, whether first- or second-hand, probably most of the thinking people did about it, if they came across it. “Dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water rather than made out of metallic stuff like most dance music does.”

It’s impossible to hear this record now and think it’s made out of anything else but water. Short of water samples, this is what water sounds like. And damned be anyone who suggests that music sounds like music, not like other stuff with non-sonic characteristics. We’re playing critic here.

It’s there. Sun’s bassline rolls in and out like tidal swells, its high percussion the foam. Bowls is more like a Japanese noble’s leafy, fountain-and-pond retreat, or what I imagine one of those is supposed to be like after seeing a reconstruction of one in a museum once. Jamelia sounds like rolling up your trousers and paddling through a shopping centre fountain after the doors are shut for the night.

It sounds like stuff other than water too though. Caribou’s brand was once centred around words like “folktronica” and “psych-prog” but Snaith has managed to retain essential personality while rolling the cart through techno and, perhaps not nearly noted enough, straight up disco loops. It’s some pure, fluid dance music, with the vocals buried and much simpler than Caribou vocals used to sometimes try to be. Hannibal is enough to make anyone dance like Richie from Jape. Swim is melancholy, but it manages to stretch that melancholy out into something to be exorcised by movement – and shared.

Here is a Daytrotter session, and an interview Dan Gray did for Totally Dublin.

Caribou – Sun


I live cement

Going to see electronic things live is boring, because they just press play on a laptop and there are flashing lights and you just kind of dance and act like you’re at a normal club where they’re playing music by a thing you like. That’s exactly what Caribou is like. It’s just Dan Snaith wearing a pair of glasses and kind of bopping in the way that the vaguely uncool guys who make electronic music do.

Or wait, no. By virtue of the fact that Caribou used to be a weird psychedelic thing with a lot of guitars, or maybe for some reason completely separate to that, they are an incredibly good live band, more in line with the live driving rhythms of someone like Holy Fuck than the programmed crew. Though I was not being serious about that either.

This is the third time I’ve seen Caribou in 2010, so there aren’t a lot of new things to think. The first time was on Governor’s Island and it was “hard to think of a more perfect gig”. The second time was at Electric Picnic, late, in the Body and Soul, which was hazy. This was the first time indoors.

It’s a band who don’t seem all that concerned about looking cool, for various reasons. They’re too busy wearing a yellow winter coat in a warm enclosed space, being a member of a Touch and Go band as a fulltime job, playing complex drum patterns as well as a quantized drum sequencer would and probably thinking about calculus, respectively. They go in a few different directions. They can build it up and touch on rocking out territory. They can strip it back into breakdown that’s almost minimal.

Mostly they stay somewhere in the middle, with Snaith triggering those lush synth progressions while he alternates between singing, playing guitar, playing the colour synth and, most excitingly, sitting down at the drums across from Brad Weber, egging each other on with their play. This isn’t Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien picking up mallets to go boom boom click boom boom. Both of these dudes are endorsed drummers. And when one of them is touring the toms while the other one’s accenting out rhythms on a hi-hat, that’s a pretty impressive sight.

Bowls, with its vaguely atonal sample of a Xiu Xiu-esque singing bowl (presumably), was on of the in-set highlights, hypnotic as hell, flipping from speaker to speaker and allowing bass and rhythm to sneak up. It’s a banger. And then, to close the set, Odessa, and the guy pulling off his shirt and waving it around his head. Dan Snaith still thinking about calculus.

Coming back out for the encore, it seemed like one of those moments where you actually believe Dublin is a great place for touring bands to play, Snaith saying “you guys are awesome” to a sold-out Button Factory (the gig originally having been booked for Crawdaddy, in a fit of insanity by someone). It was Sun, obviously. And then, at the end, still thinking about calculus, shaking hands with the front row, he’s pulled out and crowdsurfed around for about thirty seconds, the roof long torn off the place.


Who knows what she’s going to say?

So here’s the scene. I’m at South Street Seaport, where I have been every Friday for the last four Fridays. So Cow ends. A choice presents itself. Stay for Golden Triangle and Thee Oh Sees, or take a risk on being allowed over to Governor’s Island for an evening of fake beaching, electric palm trees and mathematical adept/facemelting tune chef Caribou.

I chose Caribou. It was surprisingly easy, sorry to make it sound dramatic. The queue for the ferry took about ten minutes even though my friends who had gone earlier waited a solid two hours. This is evidence that God loves So Cow (but not Ireland).

Quick breeze through the opening acts. Chain Gang of 1974: terrible. 1/10. Super-calculated rock ‘n’ roll post-Rapture stuff with the most annoying, obtrusive frontman of all time. At one he shouted (presumably) “You two are fucking awesome” at two members of the crowd. Not beyond the realms of possibility that he actually did say what I initially thought, though, and he just wanted to declare his love for U2 mid-set. Anyway, fuck Chain Gang of 1974.

Phantogram were less offensive but their oblique, abstract electronic rock didn’t exactly induce the right type of mood for the occasion. Guess who did.

This bad picture brought to you by low lighting and "Iso Mode".

So Dan Snaith emerges. You might remember him from his 2005 doctoral thesis on Overconvergent Siegel Modular Symbols, completed at Imperial College London. More likely you know him as Caribou, former progressive intricate guitar-led psychtronica artist and current Four Tet-esque club speaker-murderer.

They play as a four-piece with two drum-kits set up at the front of the stage, putting the sensational drummer at the centre of attention and highlighting the bits where Snaith has finished his vocal part, rolled up his sleeves and sat down to play equally complex drums himself. There are triggered sequencer tracks, definitely, but still, they’re an impressive proposition for a band that makes mostly electronic music.

Things kick off relatively slowly, but by the time Melody Day hits about three songs in, the crowd’s reaching its peak in size and energy. Andorra songs are met with some of the most enthusiastic shuffles I’ve seen en masse.

But it’s the Swim songs, when they drop (and they do drop, on festival sized bass-bins), that own the plastic beach. Odessa comes halfway through the set, creates a bleary reverie in its wake and send a lot of the attendees towards the ferry happy, being eager to get back to whatever investment banking they have to do in Manhattan but not without getting their time’s worth.

Those who stayed got flawless, driving, intricate electronic music from on high. The end of the regular set comes, Snaith thanks the crowd in a totally unassuming I-have-a-PhD-in-Overconvergent-Siegel-Modular-Symbols type of way, taps on some heavy delay and says “Sun!”

It is what it says it is, undeniably one of the tracks of the year, and enough to inspire a space-caked (but no worse) companion into claiming unselfawarely that he was genuinely experiencing euphoria.

The encore was a ten minute psychedelic instrumental showpiece full of builds, drops, washes and turns, taunting the ferry-hurriers with ever twist. A seriously impressive set of musicians, as I said, with proper bombs up their sleeve.

Hard to think of a more perfect gig, even if I’m clearly not expressing it that well.