Dan Snaith spent the first decade of his career attacking a wide range of genres with the intensity of an autodidact and the cerebral coolness of an academic. Back when he was still recording as Manitoba without fear of legal challenges from disgruntled punk veterans, he dissembled the IDM of the late 1990s and early ‘00s on debut Start Breaking My Heart before moving on to kaleidoscopic, colorful psychedelia on Up in Flames. From there, it was on to chugging krautrock and rich, melancholy ‘60s pop on The Milk of Human Kindness and Andorra, respectively; the 2010 LP Swim, cobbled together from leftover DJ set material and inspired by the sounds of deep house and contemporary club music, grew his fan base further. Despite the huge breadth of sounds they explore, these albums all share an essential playfulness and engrossing curiosity.
It’s always been enjoyable to hear Snaith dive deep into a new passion and emerge with a new record awash in the ecstasy of influence: finely detailed, in love with its inspiration, simply tuneful, and yet thematically complex. Our Love, his first album as Caribou in four years, is his first full-length that doesn’t come with a major shift from the sound of its predecessor. This is body music on the same general wavelength as Swim, albeit slightly warped and refined. The differences, then, are deeper: this is Snaith’s most overtly personal record to date, one that’s remarkable for its intimacy, openheartedness, and joy derived from basic human connection.
Our Love is a quietly ambitious record, despite its modest title: in documenting Snaith’s personal vision of love, it seeks to render love in all of its universally complicated glory. It’s a warts-and-all depiction of a state of being that’s so often constrained to one or two facets in pop songs: obsession and disconnection, passion and jealousy, companionship and loneliness, all given equal weight. From the outside, Snaith looks the picture of domestic bliss, or at least stability—he’s been married for 13 years, and his first child was born in 2011—but many of Our Love’s lyrics hint at romantic trouble or marital discomfort. Nameless characters feel mistreated, are haunted by lurking suitors and bad memories, lament their broken love, look towards the future; when they’re in love, it’s with an intensity that verges on the maniacal. But it’s reasonable to conclude that the album’s songs aren’t near-direct transcriptions of events and feelings from Snaith’s life; instead, they’re extremes pulled from the necessarily complicated life two people build together over years and years, rich with joy but laden with baggage.
In any long-term relationship, there are moments of deadening melancholy where you feel like your organs have been put through an industrial shredder. It’s in those moments where you sniff at imagining your life completely different, or even with someone else—fantasies enabled by intense emotional pain. And then, somehow, things get better, and your heart is overflowing with love; you’re almost in disbelief, thinking, “How could I imagine a different life, even for a second?” Our Love captures the zig-zag between these two poles with an authenticity and honesty few albums manage, and the album’s excellent two singles, “Can’t Do Without You” and “Our Love”, focus on the latter sensation.
The kind of complex, slowly shifting relationship the album seeks to depict is mirrored by its own relationship to “dance music,” a term that’s broadly applicable to Our Love but awkward and inadequate upon closer examination. Snaith is an accomplished DJ, remixer, and producer, and he has a rock-solid grasp on the mechanics of the dancefloor: he understands how to get people moving, how to sustain intensity, and how small moves behind the boards can yield surprising results. A good example is the way he uses dynamic variation on highlights “Can’t Do Without You” and “Back Home”, using volume to make hooks hit that much harder. His 2012 record as Daphni, Jiaolong, was a dance nerd’s delight, a lean and brittle release forged by crate-digging and the need to churn out hours of material for marathon sets at European clubs, and its influence is felt in subtle ways on Our Love.
This album is glassy, warped, and largely digital where Swim was bold, bright, and decisively analog in places; there’s a warmth to it, but much of it comes from Snaith rather than his largely digital soundscapes. That said, Our Love only really glances at straightforward dance composition before choosing to shrug it off and take a different path. Most of the album is too slow and strange for the club, and its songs mutate in ways that are unexpected and offer different kind of rewards. The title track spends four minutes building to a strobe-lit, wildly pulsing frenzy, only to turn left into a lovely string outro arranged by contemporary maestro Owen Pallett, a longtime Snaith pal. The back half twosome of “Julia Brightly” and “Mars” are the two tracks that offer any kind of predictable dance-oriented pleasure, and even they’re a little off-kilter, with the former’s searing synth washes and the latter’s perky flute melody.
The key attribute is ultimately confidence. Our Love is a very assured record, from its unconventional, austere arrangements to its unrelenting focus and thematic consistency. This can be traced, in part, to Snaith’s solid collaborative circle: from respected advisors like Kieran Hebden and his wife to other artists like the aforementioned Pallett and Jessy Lanza, he’s surrounded himself with people he trusts and appreciates, freeing him to take risks and pursue a pure artistic vision. Pallett’s arrangements on the title track, “Silver”, and closer “Your Love Will Set You Free” lend a lightness to an album that sometimes verges on uncomfortable depth; Lanza’s winning feature on “Second Chance” is a welcome dose of female perspective on a record dominated by Snaith’s, her melody and fluttering voice taking the album from one person’s love to something larger.
Speaking of voices, Snaith’s isn’t half bad either: a reluctant vocalist earlier in his career, he’s improved by leaps and bounds since then, lending an imperfect humanity to these songs even if he’s not quite carrying them. His imperfect delivery makes plenty of sense in this context, anyway: you can imagine him warbling these songs to his wife, or turning them into lullabies for his daughter. It’s a subtle cultivation of intimacy, but one that works in driving home the album’s central conceit: that the love you feel for your partner, and the life and family you can choose to shape together, can be transformative. It’s hard work, and it’s not always easy, but it pays remarkable and lasting dividends. It can change your perspective and the effect you want to have on the world, and Our Love is a worthy tribute to that messy, unbelievably powerful force.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1uTZDIs