Caribou, Up in Flames

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Up in Flames


Ontario's Dan Snaith, the man who used to record as Manitoba until some jerk from New York forced him to change his moniker to Caribou, makes headphone records, pure and simple. That's not all they are, of course: Snaith's structures are so sturdy they carry across a room at medium volume. But his details are so fine they lose something in that traveling distance — and they're worth the ear time of anyone who enjoys that kind of fine-tuning. “Hendrix with Ko,” the “hit” off Snaith's third album, now in a special edition with a half-dozen tracks added to the original ten, is as good an example of the producer's delicate hand as you can ask for. Murmured ba-bas with slight mike hiss, a breakbeat that rattles like paper on a fan, foreshortened harp swirls used for percussive purposes as well as textural ones, near-subliminal whirring clicks: all this before a light, gurgling bass comes in, finishing the foundation for a song as feathery as its surroundings. Even when the thing revs up about a minute and a half from the end, there's something appealingly hesitant about it — it pulls you in further rather than pushing itself out.

Caribou conjures a sense of wonder with his delicate touch.

That's what Up in Flames does as a whole, actually. Snaith is often aligned with the likes of Boards of Canada, and for good reason: like the Scottish duo, the solo Canadian creates aural versions of old, overexposed photographs from childhood, stray toys dotting iffy carpeting off to the side of the images'subjects, the scenario accruing a sense of wonder with the passage of time. “I've Lived on a Dirt Road All My Life” sounds like the theme from an early-'70s New Hollywood film under heavy dub pressure; “Skunks” unfurls a simple guitar pattern over shifting percussion and snaking free-jazz sax. The basic music-box melody of “Crayons” conveys genuine playfulness, over which Snaith murmurs, “Don't know what I feel like/I just want to get away.” With music this effectively dreamy, who couldn't relate?