“Swim” – ‘Caribou’
Been a little swept away, lately; two weeks have literally flown past, can’t tell up from down, everything’s a constant blur or bore. So what am I to say this Friday, what being my excuse for prior Fridays? That fiendish, demonic wall of relentlessness called “writers block”, predominantly, when the words just don’t spill out onto the page like they’re supposed to. I’m an order-orientated anarchist, a little controlled chaos is what a like, so think along the lines of Jackson Pollock [too famous?]. When I decided I might pour out my opinionated opinions out onto an essay or three for University, I was somewhat devastated [shattered, utterly shattered!] when I received one back and nearly failed.
Am I taking this too seriously?
Writing is my craft, though [supposedly], and I’m doing a “writing” course at RMIT – so when you nearly fail a simple essay, it kind of lacerates the soul a bit. So I was emotionally bleeding – flustered is an apt word for this occasion – the weeks before. I apologise for collecting myself and leaving the blog review-less [as you might have noticed, I didn’t neglect it altogether because the banner’s up]. With that said, there hasn’t been much in the way of music [album-wise that is, news-wise there’s shit flying everywhere – ‘Interpol‘, ‘Powderfinger‘, you name it, even my beloved ‘The Killers’: band break-up – but more of that some other time].
Without further distraction:
Michael Hodder and I caught up sometime a few weeks ago – the day remains elusive – and we decided to hike down to Polyester Records* Flinders Street way for a little music-inspiration; I don’t know about you, but I need at least one solid album delivered intravenously a month, otherwise I kind of deflate and run on auto-mode. You know that mode, those please-leave-a-message-after-the-beep-BEEP*-eyes playing Russian-roulette with the abyss? I get that way on the train too. I was strolling through the racks of albums – CD after CD, LP after LP, even some actual EPs [half-sized vinyl] – and was instinctively driven by the background-music playing, to insist:
“May I ask who’s playing right now?”
The young-woman shies away from a filing cabinet, replying only just audibly: “Odessa, from Caribou’s latest album.”
Intriguing: I wondered about the rest of the album, the experimental – yet ethnic-sounding – quality of ‘Caribou‘s’ “Swim”. Unlike ‘Jonsi’s’ “Go”, I did not instinctively purchase [mind you, at thirty-dollars a piece, it’s hard to “instinctively purchase” a CD these days], but I thought I’d take a look later that day. I found myself directed to Pitchfork.com – I suppose our mainstream reviewing competitors [who are well-paid, well-fed, and staffed, have their own .com and don’t consider themselves ‘a blog’, but ‘a reviewing tycoon’] – and was quickly whisked away to ‘Caribous’ “Swim”.
From a retrospective glance, “Swim” is comparably similar to most electronica being pumped out of this mongrel-of-a-genre at the moment. I’ve tackled a few bands in the past, like “When Saints Go Machine” and their album “Ten Makes A Face” – which is a superb album, don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it – however, was still a little naive at the time when I reviewed it. But if you’re already baffled for comparisons, I’ll point you in the direction of ‘Delorean’s’ latest release “Subiza”, because at one stage I could hardly tell it apart from ‘Caribou’– one understands why “Swim” and “Subiza” both scored 8.4 on the Pitchfork-scale [conspiracy, me thinks?]…
With that said, “Swim” is a surprisingly fresh dip into electronica – a genre which I otherwise enjoy, but have neglected from time to time – with a striking array of varying synthesised elements which flit about, tied into repetitive acoustic loops topped off with Dan Snaith on airy-vocals which sometimes need a butter-menthol. I’m not intentionally setting out to criticise the album; these past few months have been tough, the music is just generally lacking in quality, and I think it’s the sleepy Autumn-atmosphere which lulls everyone within close proximity to drift more and act half-arsed [or is it just me?]. Because this is the first album from ‘Caribou’ I’ve listened to, I’ve literally got nothing to fall back on: fans are probably going to read me stating the obvious, which is all I can give you newcomers because I just don’t have a ‘Caribou‘-context.
While “Swim” predominantly has a mix between vocals and synth, with “Bowls” being the only real instrumental, tracks occasionally drag under a repetitive riff or two – as is the case with synth-orientated music forms. But I think the redeeming features of ‘Caribou’ in this instance is how it conforms crescendo, or how it replaces instances of vocalisation with lead-driven instrumentation. I particularly like how new synthesised elements are introduced into a track, occasionally off-kilter or in-the-middle-of. ‘Caribou’ combines unlikely sounds together to form an unbiased sound-scape which – for use of a better word – is sexy. At around the forty-minute mark, here’s the perfect opt for vinyl format: it’s frustrating for myself, and I understand why [read ‘Jonsi’ – “Go” for further details], but “Swim” is still deceptively long. I use this word “deceptively” a lot, because if you notice the passage of time while listening to an album, it’s not a good thing – obviously your mind is elsewhere, and not focused on the music. If you’re mind’s not focused on the music, then the music’s not grabbing your attention, and if it ain’t doing that, it ain’t worth listening to…
Welcome to my world!
“Odessa” opens for “Swim”, and it still remains the driving force behind the albums entirety: the persistent, ‘subsonic throbs’, ‘shakes’, ‘swishes’ and ‘chings’ diversify the percussion, from pure synth, to cowbell – so because it’s hard to name some of the synthesised elements, I will refrain from naming them as instruments unto themselves. The leading ‘squeal’ – which I cannot quite put my finger on – is utterly amazing, and with the arrival of the panpipes, I’m amazed that this song actually pulls it off at all. The accompanying lyrics:
“She can say,
She can say,
Who knows what she’s gonna say*…”
… Appear abundantly throughout the miniature choruses; other lyrics here are also commendable. When we arrive at “Sun”, however, there’s a complete lyrical breakdown with the consistent enunciation of the word “SUN” twice every second in what I can only presume to be the chorus; you’ll be eating sunscreen in no time. Although the synth remains flavoursome, the problem I have with it is its repetition, which was what I was getting at before. The song powers through its crescendos marvelously, but in between it’s a little bland.
“Bowls” remains the only instrumental, which sort of struggles for six-minutes and then ends. It tries to keep things interesting – again – with diversified percussion, ranging from bells, to bowls, from highs, to lows, flutes and sticks, to synth, but isn’t all that impressive; it builds on top of itself with layers, but in a very slow, progressive style which might otherwise bore the casual listener. I find myself skipping through it, or skipping it altogether, which isn’t a great sign I must admit.
I want to quickly touch base with “Leave House”, which kind of follows the same format as “Sun”, just replace the lyrics “Sun” with “Leave House”, however where “Sun” just dispensed with accompanying lyrics, “Leave House” did the right thing and kept them. They create a darker atmosphere to a track otherwise directed towards suspense or suspicion. When the deep bellow of what I presume to be some brass instrument, a horn perhaps, appears, it suddenly undercuts the mood completely – if it had have run with this throughout, I think it would have been a contender against “Odessa”. Very eighties-synth reminiscent at times.
I’ll finish by by saying that “Swim” is definitely an album which deserves your full attention; I don’t think it has much replay value if you listen to it consistently, but it does create its own sexy atmosphere, so every once and a while, break out the “Odessa”. Keep in mind that “Swim” is miles-better than half the stuff being pumped out at the moment, so don’t take it for granted, this gem might be small, but it’s not worth knocking altogether.
Reviewers Pick: “Odessa”
Stand-out Tracks: “Odessa”, “Leave House”, “Jamelia”
The Enantiomorphic God