ing it with me: Skyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy Pie-lit. If on the first few listens to Caribou’s fourth album Andorra, you’re tempted to break into a shrill rendition of Eric Burdon and the Animals’ 1968 hit, forgive yourself. It took me weeks to get past that stage.
As an artist who brings new dynamics to each album while still keeping a smudgeprint all his own to his work, Caribou—aka, Dan Snaith, who recorded as Manitoba before a lawsuit by devoted Scrooge Handome Dick Manitoba forced him to drop the moniker—has placed himself in a pretty unique artistic foreground. If Start Breaking My Heart was his daybreak electronica record, then Up In Flames brought that sun to blind glare. Snaith’s gauzy vocals were, for the first time, layered with Krautrock breaks and myriad electronic gasps and heaves. 2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness, then, found him further embracing the rhythmic centerpieces of Can and Neu! and the deep-eared wealth of the Silver Apples, while toying with a newly naked sense of songcraft. He seemed to be taking to his voice, both in metaphor and application, sucking out some of the haze and linking it to his earthiest grooves to date.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, Snaith’s newest album, Andorra, merges Milk’s heady sense of immediacy with a clear and consumable swiftness. He further embraces California’s late-‘60s psych-pop and perhaps for the first time really lives up to the Brian Wilson tags of his early career. Unlike Milk—with its King Crimson samples left nude—Andorra is made completely of Snaith’s own material, patches of his own playing. His recent Ph.D. in mathematics may well have come in handy here actually. But though it’s tempting to consider its algorithms—was this passage of noise designed for this song or pulled from a thick series of such random snippets bound for anything—the end result is an album of deft manipulation of sound and place that gives new echoes to a pretty well-worn voice in time.
Still, as long as we’re allowing for out clauses, you’re going to have to accept that very voice. Snaith’s Day-Glo near falsetto has never been left so open—something many fans of his earliest work seem to be having a problem swallowing. After all, this newfound pop sensibility is the thing that first stands out about Andorra. “She’s The One,” with background vocals from the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan, is a seamless swell of bliss-out psych, building from stuttering vocal samples and acoustic guitar into its restrained martial drums and slow bleed Rhodes. Snaith hasn’t overlooked his talent for stocky drum rolls, certainly, but he’s comfortable enough with sense of collage now to allow them their place. “Desiree,” for example, begins shy and open, with just Snaith’s voice, a guitar, and tufts of strings.
Even when it goes kaleidoscopic, it’s clearly centered on a slow-footed intro, returning eventually to its bumblebee hush. Opener, and lead single, “Melody Day” meanwhile manages to perhaps best illustrate the changes at work with Snaith—combining Boredoms-big drum patterns with a wide-eyed wall of sound tipping over with guitars, ripples of electronics, and trilling flutes that still showcase his new focus on clarity—while “Sandy” takes the same largesse and fills it with lines straight outta the Haight in ‘67 (“Sometimes in her eyes I see forever / I can’t believe what we’ve found.”) But with Snaith—given how articulately he’s recreated the period’s psychedelic sway—they come off as devoted rather than saccharine.
Just as you’ve come to think of Snaith as Howard Kaylan Jr. or some shit though, he closes Andorra with some of the most intricately detailed sound collages he’s yet created. Sure, “Sundialing” is kissing cousin to the lysergic tribalisms of Milk—with its muffled drum charge, intertwining guitar loops, and rhythmic centering it really does sound like a b-side left off 2005’s Tour CD—but “Irene” features not only the album’s most gorgeous three and a half minutes but also its most beguiling. Fronted by a warbling tonal pattern and horns, Snaith allows the mystery to linger. And then his voice channels between the speakers, a moan, an utterance so bare of mouth. And then two minutes in, Snaith and his brokeneck love song are there for a moment, only to finish in a static burst. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t; it’s a song of adoration voiced in academic terms, a hard duality to master—a broken radio pitched in time to a tuner’s smashed heart. And yet that strange verbal urging, and the addictively simple pattern beneath, seem so close to joy.
Closer, “Niobe,” takes this aural mash to even more perplexing levels though. The waves and tones are muttered out, almost inaudible. Bells up front, if anything can be said to be up front, chopped into sporadic drums and Snaith’s own voice. It all seems to crest and subside as soon as you take notice, to move somewhere else and sound new again by doing the exact same thing in patterns of ritual. Of course, and this is where the story goes widescreen, it’s the unraveling of all the fine patchwork on Andorra. Nine minutes mad and exciting—the former for its excess and the latter for its savvy undermining of Andorra’s own perfectionism.
And really, that’s why Caribou thrives in this artistic foreground I mentioned. He’s one of a handful of artists who actually live up to the oft-stale notion of evolution in windows of time that close so quickly. Even, sometimes, within a single record. But he does so without forcing the issue (see: First Impressions of Earth). I can’t beef with the White Stripes hammerin’ out “Ball and Biscuit” under five working titles, Interpol painting it black with black, or My Morning Jacket making me so happily at home with epic melancholia. But Snaith allows for arcs and pits that end with him ahead of us all. I guess he offers movement. In either case, it’s time to consider just what a rarity he is: an act you can grow old(er) with rather than growing old(er) to.