Dan Snaith is one of my musical heroes. The man has followed his muse all across the musical landscape, and that journey has resulted in a series of albums that are as impressively varied as they are distinctly his own. His albums have grown progressively more assured over time, from the dense suburban phantasmagoria of sophomore triumph Up in Flames to the more focused, blown-out psychedelic pop of 2007’s Andorra (my personal fave). The only album of his that has yet to strike a chord with me is Swim, his 2010 attempt at reconfiguring his psychedelic tendencies around dance music’s structure and instrumentation. Regardless, that unexpected move from the studio to the club has become the driving force behind Snaith’s output since, resulting in both his electronic “Daphnia” side-project and a new mainline Caribou album: Our Love.
In many ways, Our Love feels like a direct sequel to Swim. The defining difference between the two, and the reason why I think Our Love is so much more successful, is that this latest album feels like a more concerted effort to bridge the gap between Snaith’s two styles. The result is a fascinating, expertly crafted dance album that utilizes melody and dynamics in ways that feel reminiscent of Snaith’s more rock and pop-oriented albums. The most immediate analogue that comes to mind is Four Tet, whose discography shows the same transition from bedroom experimentation to expertly crafted electronic music. But, whereas recent Four Tet albums like There is Love in You and Beautiful Rewind sought energy and beauty through stark, rhythmic workouts, Our Love is a beautifully warm and full-sounding album. It’s far removed from the mountainous sounds on Up in Flames, but it manages to capture a lot of the same splendor.
One of the key factors of Our Love’s success is Snaith’s voice. His airy, high-pitched singing style helped tease out the heartbreak inside songs like “Hello Hammerheads” and “Melody Day,” but it fits even more seamlessly into these dance tracks by incorporating a disco-like swing that works wonders. “All I Ever Need,” one of the more skeletal tracks, layers Snaith’s echoing voice over percolating drums as both a rhythmic and melodic element, and his crooning gives the gently simmering song plenty of heart.
Still, Snaith’s greatest talent is still his way with melody. Outside opener “Can’t Do Without You” and its subtly impactful build, Our Love forgoes a lot of the crescendo-building that characterizes modern dance music, which leaves plenty of room to establish and develop melodies and countermelodies. In just 2 short minutes, “Julia Brightly” builds, disassembles, and reconfigures its bleary synth hook, windswept drums, and trotting bassline multiple times. Closer “Your Love Will Set You Free” feels like a slow collapse into a dream, with a relatively straightforward opening section that sinks deeper and deeper into a haze of strings and vocal effects until it emerges, bright-eyed, into an epiphany composed of chirps and synth washes. Compare to the early experimentation with this style that closed out Andorra, and it’s easy to see just how developed Snaith’s musical world has become despite the shakeups it has experienced.
“Good music is good music no matter what kind of music it is.”
Surprisingly enough, I’ve heard a lot of crap about Our Love’s “style”. Some say it’s a little too chill for its own good, others say it’s a little too light to be described as electronica. Both people, however, did acknowledge it as a good record. Which proves Mr. Davis correct: if it’s good, it doesn’t matter.
Our Love is basically the soundtrack to a late summer day in the life of a 12 year old. Well, that’s the vibe I got from it. Takes me way back to my pre-teenage angst days, where I’d run along the fields of grass in the sunset by my uncle’s barn. When the sun set, I looked up at the stars and wondered for hours. This album encapsulates all of those emotions and mails it to me in a pleasantly wrapped box, only to be opened and re-discovered (as it was).
Our Love starts off with this trance-like atmospheric track simply titled after the main lyric of the song, “Can’t Do Without You”. I think of this song like a futuristic butterfly, having weird blue plasma as wings and lasers for eyes. Yeah, I know that sounds stupid, but think about it. This song just makes you think about the future and what it could hold, and for me, that’s plasma butterflies with lasers, because anything’s possible. “Can’t Do Without You” fills whatever room you’re in with this thick dense lifting vibe. Like you’re being taken to not only another place, but another time, a time where past and future collide, a time where imagination is not only implied, but explored. It displays this swelling lead that can only be described as ebbing from a boring landscape. It doesn’t make you jump up and down, it makes you walk in slow motion. The same can be said about the second track, “Silver”. Caribou really did a good job of exemplifying late night nostalgia with this album so far. I feel like I’m 12 years old again, with the world seemingly at my fingertips. “Silver” features a master class of “let’s escape the night” sorts of synthy harmonies and really does a great job telling a story of that as well.
“All I Ever Need” definitely shows the darker side of the album, for sure, but it’s still the sunset nostalgia I remember as a kid. The percussion really makes this song great, ranging from 80’s club-like bass drums to indie-ish snare hits. This song really has its fair share of weird sounds, especially towards the end. Really reminds me of Blank Banshee 0, BB0 displays the same kind of mystery and natural feel. The title track “Our Love” is like a club riddled with drugs and strobe lights, while your drunk friend is trying to get laid with the bartender who is clearly out of his league. Yeah, I know, did you do this when you were 12? No, but I always imagine certain scenarios in my head that go along with music I hear, in this instance it’s what I said. It takes a surreal step into what I can only describe as the “Windows 98 Universe”, where everything feels like it’s happening in a script written on a Windows 98 computer. Sounds stupid? It isn’t. Windows 98 is THE OS of my childhood, and “Our Love” sounds like the kind of song I’d listen to when playing Microsoft Bob or something.
“Dive” features this slow motion steamy sound that only lasts for 2 minutes. It shows great restraint by Caribou, who likely knew this song could have dragged on for several minutes but only allowed it less than 3. This shows not only his patience but the rest of Our Love‘s as well, really displaying that an album can be great and not full of itself. “Second Chance” is the most Kanye-core song on this entire album, with the little “woos” sprinkled over the fantastic lead female vocal and the synth chords. The chorus is reminiscent of a late 2000’s era high school dance. To some, that’s a lame comparison, but high school dances can actually be really fun if you’re actually dancing, which is what I wanted to do to this song, I wanted to dance. I don’t really dance much, but I was swaying back and forth to this song like it implores you to do so.
“Julia Brightly” explores the same element of modern electronic music that the first song displayed, almost in exactly the same fashion. But, it’s a good thing, as it rightly revisits the same lush and atmospheric mood “Can’t Do Without You” had. Lush leads, fun vocals, frankly awesome percussion, this was a fun little track. The same can be said for “Mars”, which starts things off with a nice little african mamba beat, followed by a Donkey Kong Country-core melody, and then the bass starts. It feels awesome, really cool vibes coming from this song into my room. I felt like I was exploring the outer rims of the galaxy from my chair. Really great track.
“Back Home” puts me back on Earth as my descent from the heavenly dimension comes to an end. The fast bass-heavy harmony and the melody from what sounds like a late 60’s Moog synthesizer really puts me back in place, filling me with reflective joy and with wonder, mainly focused on what kind of an amazing experience I had.
The closing track “Your Love Will Set You Free” is the after-credits scene to a movie, leaving you to wonder even more about the days you had when you were 12, and the days you will have in the future. Though it uses a recycled backbeat, it works well here. It makes you think that the days you had when you were younger were great, but the days to come will be so much better. This album did a fantastic job filling that nostalgic atmosphere in the air, and leaves you with memories of your own that you feel are exclusive and no one else can really have. Our Love is a masterpiece, an album that made me really happy.