Start Breaking My Heart / Up in Flames
Domino / Domino
2001 / 2003
B+ / A-
lthough reissued albums are reminders, some tend to mistake their listeners for amnesiacs. It’s been five years since Start Breaking My Heart was released and three for Up In Flames, and even though a legal spat forced Snaith to rescind the Manitoba moniker, I seriously doubt the public will soon forget his efforts. Now that these albums have been relieved of misguided critical fetes (remember the “Folktronica” tag?), a better understanding of what Caribou is all about can emerge.
Start Breaking My Heart is Snaith working with muffled sepia tones and blunt tools. His creations here are dulcet but the sonic spectrum is firmly entrenched in IDM and ambient roots. Nonetheless the sprightly Up in Flames and more indie-oriented The Milk of Human Kindness can easily be divined from Start Breaking’s muted landscape, for it still has ample gradations and texture even if it’s all in grayscale. Sometimes the influences are easily observed: songs like “Mammals vs. Reptiles,” have practically the same busy, heavy percussion and brass as later work, but abstain from strong melodies. “James’ Second Haircut” and “Schedules & Fairs” are similar but even more restrained.
Only these tracks’ juxtaposition with others that are almost wholly rooted in IDM places Start Breaking in an entirely different artistic epoch for Snaith rather than merely as a platonic form of his follow-ups. “Lemon Yoghourt” is a refrain of clipped percussion while “Children Play Well Together” lives mainly in its synthetic shifting bass line.
The extras from Up In Flames work well as transitional signposts because they still contain much of the sobriety of his debut but are obviously clawing towards something with more light. The major difference is in the drumming, which is now given a few more bars before being looped. The horn samples are similarly more free jazz influenced, rather than utilized as mere random counterpoint. “Cherrybomb” is a prime example, but you can hear the change in the drums all throughout the extras. Perhaps just as important, though, is the replacement of the synthetic blips and beeps with organic equivalents—mainly xylophones, chimes, and other tuned percussion instruments—as well as the inclusion of more eccentric samples like handclaps and vocal loops.
These changes naturally take fuller form on the LP itself, which adds hefty doses of krautrock and shoegazer as well as vocals from Snaith himself. The percussion is almost totally loosened here or at least looped only at points that would make it sound natural, a feature that made live drumming possible at his concerts. The pieces that once would have been “ambient” on Start Breaking My Heart are now suffused with a shimmer, like the opening and bulk of “Jacknuggeted” and some parts of “Crayon,” while the other songs are busier all around but without sounding busy at all.
The changes from Up in Flames to The Milk of Human Kindness aren’t nearly as major as those from Start Breaking My Heart. Snaith sounds more calculated these days, but now it’s more about rarefying a specific sound rather than transitioning in toto to another. Then again, these reissues make us reconsider our belief that Snaith somehow entirely switched up his sound as opposed to simply emphasizing and depressing certain features of it. Each Caribou release has been pregnant with the next in some way, and even if these reissues aren’t aged enough to warrant throwing down money, they at least beg for another look.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2006-07-10