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Brain-Teasing 

Caribou twists your melon with intelligent psych-pop

Wednesday, Oct 24 2007
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It's rare to find musicians who don't claim to put blood, sweat, and tears into their craft. Dan Snaith, however, is offering to bring something a bit more extreme to the table.

"Do you know what black pudding is?" asks the kooky but congenial musician, known to most as Caribou, over brunch in Brooklyn. "It's like blood, ground meat, a little bit of sauce. So, say I am going to make a black pudding with my blood. Would you eat it?"

Sure, some would say being a musician is all about spilling your guts for people to feed upon; and Snaith has gone that route over seven years and four euphorically tense, percussion-punctuated albums of psych-pop, the latest being Andorra. But this black pudding talk is something else entirely.

Maybe Snaith is tired and wired after playing a sold-out, earnestly exuberant show at the Bowery Ballroom the previous evening. Maybe he is just trying to make me feel uncomfortable after being put on the spot by a game of "Bed, Wed, Dead," during which he is asked which of his good pals and fellow electrocoustic musicians the Junior Boys, Four Tet, and Russian Futurists he would fuck, marry, or kill (the sidestepping answer is that he'd have sex with all of them if he were not already married). Maybe Snaith has an insatiable bloodlust (he did say he'd try my blood were I to try his). Maybe the fact that he's Canadian but lives in London is to blame.

What's more likely is that Snaith, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, is a genuine academic. Today he is attempting to determine the formula by which my system of values works, while I do the same to him. So we discuss more theoretical situations, more killing in the abstract, how installation art shifts the value of space, and the pros and cons of growing a tour beard.

While these may sound like tangents and novelty questions, eventually the subjects begin to coalesce. The recurring theme of our conversation is one of persistence, a paced study in composition. Andorra, like all of Snaith's albums, rewards the patient, even as it proves itself his loosest collection of arrangements.

The disc's first song, "Melody Day," comes across like prime Electric Prunes riding a Can-ny wave of percussion. A balmier track such as "She's the One" or "Eli" grafts Dennis Wilson and Elliott Smith's multipart harmonies onto a freakbeat glide, while "Irene" and "Niobe" do blissed-out and palpitating in turn. Snaith is a bedroom producer who plays every warbling whistle, burbling synth, and shimmering sleigh bell on Andorra (save for a guest vocal by the Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan). He also programs slow-cooked songs in the tradition of the Zombies, Silver Apples, or Lothar and the Hand People, making them redolent with oscillating details. It's a constant, compounding method.

Live, however, Caribou extends its reach to eight arms and an even more immersive intent, a collection of smeared sounds that emulsify into a supple thwack (à la Wire, perhaps). When asked to describe what being a touring musician means to him, Snaith gives as close to a straightforward answer as we achieve this day: "It's like being a moving company ... literally moving sounds and gear ... and lifting people up a little bit."

Said like a man who wants to transfuse a little bit of himself, even his blood, into any takers.

About The Author

Tony Ware

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