Caribou – Up In Flames (2003) / The Milk of Human Kindness (2005) / Andorra (2007)

cariboucoversI give algorithms a tough time, but they can be useful: it was a “Like this? Try these!” suggestion from Amazon that introduced me to Caribou’s music (then released under the moniker Manitoba); I’d rated Four Tet’s second album (Pause) and because of this the rainforest kindly thought I might like Start Breaking My Heart. Following that algorithmic introduction, Dan Snaith, as his mum calls him, went on to consistently make just about my favourite music of the noughties.

I liked Start Breaking My Heart, a sequence of gently glitching, sweetly melodic, jazz-inflected laptronica vignettes, well enough, but two years later I was absolutely blown away by Up In Flames. I’d practically forgotten Manitoba, but I saw an early review in a music magazine (I don’t remember which one) which got me excited. I can still remember my first listen to it, in the spare bedroom of my parents’ house which I used as a listening den; my hi-fi set up at one end, CDs down either wall, a crappy sofabed knackering my spine as I listened. From the moment it started I was squirming in my chair with delight, as excited, clattering drum rolls, jazzy skronks of brass, washes of shoegazey noise, and floaty, whimsical vocals tumbled out of the speakers in a fabulous psychedelic mess. There are only about five albums I can vividly remember my very first listen to, loving them utterly on first contact, and this is one. (The others? That’d be telling.)

Follow-up The Milk Of Human Kindness took a lot longer to appreciate – it probably wasn’t until a year or more after its release that I realised it had wormed its way into my brain, and that Em and I would both use it as a go-to record. It was, very deliberately, the first record we played in the flat when we moved in, and we bought a vinyl copy to keep in a frame on the wall too. In contrast to Up In Flames, which reveals its hectic charms quickly but is a little too chaotic for me to play often, … Human Kindness seeps into your affections slowly; all the same ingredients are still there, but balanced with an evolutionary subtlety, space between the elements, songs happy just to groove for a moment rather than explode ostentatiously.

And then came Andorra, where all the previous elements of Dan Snaith’s music came together perfectly. Part summery 60s psyche-pop homage (think Zombies, Beach Boys, Nuggets), part laptop jazz-rock soundscapes, part edge-of-chaos digital excursions, it boasted ‘proper’ ‘songs’ (“Melody Day”, “She’s The One”, “Sandy”), delicious (in)organic jams (“Eli”, “Sundialling”), and hints of the electronic head-dance music that lay in Snaith’s future with Swim and Daphni (“Irene”, “Niobe”.) Bar the closing two tracks, it’s a seamless experiment in making a record that sounds like a band playing, but which, on closer inspection, couldn’t possibly be; something in the impossible drum fills, the intricate layering of sound, the subtle noises that simply couldn’t emanate from a traditional “rock” instrument.

I’m not keen on picking all-time ‘favourite’ records, because my mind changes almost constantly, but Andorra is up there. I’ve played it to death, and it didn’t die. It works on headphones as well as through speakers. It also works, bizarrely, when played live, Snaith and his band recreating these machine-tooled, software-composed, sounds-like-a-band-but-couldn’t-be-played-by-one tunes with a traditional four-piece band (and a laptop, and a synthesizer). Sometimes, I get joy just from thinking about listening to it and being glad that someone made it.

And just for the record, yes, if this list was taking in 2010, I’d be including Swim here too.


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