Well, this makes things difficult, now doesn’t it? There was already a section for Manitoba under “M,” but now that Canadian electro mad scientist Dan Snaith has been legally required to change his name to Caribou, that means having to decide whether to split up the collection, put a “C” where an “M” should be (or vice-versa) or file everything under “S” for Snaith. For us anal-retentive types, that poses a rather unusual problem. But personally, I recommend the first option. While splitting one artist’s collection up in mid-stream would only create chaos, panic and confusion, I can only say that, in this case, it’s the only option. Dan Snaith has left the comfortable climate of Manitoba and has emerged as a Caribou.
Caribou’s debut (or Manitoba’s third…), The Milk of Human Kindness, finds Snaith in harmony with his fellow critter, frolicking alongside owls, pelicans, hammerheads, bees, leopards and the mythical Yeti. Milk finds an unusual convergence of psychedelic and electronic sounds, of the organic and the synthetic. It’s familiar — there is more than just a fleeting similarity to Snaith’s previous disc, Up in Flames — but oddly adventurous, as the rugged Canadian wilderness could promise to an outsider.
Snaith isn’t about to alienate his fans here; shades of Manitoba cast over many a track, flooding a kaleidoscopic blend of musical color over driving rhythms and righteous grooves. From the blissful buzz of opener “Yeti,” we are blessed with a benevolent and warm beast, rather than a snowy abomination. It somehow finds the connection between the distorted haze of My Bloody Valentine and the robotic joy of Neu! It bears a resemblance to the Manitoba we knew before, but more grown up and more complex in its hybridization of styles. And the flute-heavy euphoria of “Brahminy Kite” bears a childlike innocence to it, yet the rumbling drums betray a sense of mischief and chaos. Caribou may be a troublemaker, but a loveable one at that.
A more recognizable electronic side emerges on “A Final Warning,” combining Boards of Canada’s warm ambience and Comets on Fire’s thunderous noise jams. And on brief jaunts like “Subotnick” and the b-boy baroque of “Lord Leopard,” Snaith sounds more like DJ Shadow, dropping mad beats with a healthy dose of clever samples. The longest example of this is “Pelican Narrows,” a jazzy, hand-clapping hip-hop track that takes Snaith’s newfound sampladelicness for a four-minute ride.
When Milk grooves, it grooves hard. “Bees” boasts a motorik funk melody that builds into an explosive and powerful crescendo that only Dan Snaith, himself, could pull off. A similar beat underneath a subdued acoustic melody is what’s in store on “Hello Hammerheads,” a Love and Rockets-style track that finds Snaith taking a three-minute break from his samples, pushing his vocals to the front rather than adding them for texture as he typically does. Nobody ever accused Dan Snaith of being much of a crooner, but I couldn’t help but think that these songs would sound as if they were missing something, had his vocals been removed.
By the time you’ve made it to the final track, “Barnowl,” it’s pretty obvious: The Milk of Human Kindness is a rebirth for Dan Snaith. It’s still recognizable as his work, just as a caterpillar is recognizable under his newly sprouted wings. But the wings, or rather antlers, sprouted in Snaith’s case are the part you notice most. As incredible as Up in Flames was, it might be time to let Caribou have its own place on the rack. But chances are, you’ll be playing it often enough that it may not ever make it back.
Can – Ege Bamyasi
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
DJ Shadow – The Private Press
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.