Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Caribou- Andorra

2007 was a bumper crop year for music, to the point where otherwise excellent releases by bands like Do Make Say Think and Okkervil River wouldn't crack my top ten list. So it is that I'm still in the process of playing catch up on so much music from that year (not to mention the rest of the last 50ish years of music that I've missed) that something as good as Andorra escaped my notice until now. Caribou, and Dan Snaith's older work as Manitoba, has consistently been one of those artists I see showing up on “best of the year” lists, but I never seem to see copies of his music when I'm browsing through a record store. Still, Andorra won the 2008 Polaris Music Prize (though it came during one of the weakest year-ish eras for Canadian music in some time, judging by its fellow contenders) and there's something infinitely more legit about those awards than our Grammys, so let's dig in.

Andorra's aesthetic is that of 60s psych-pop meets 00s electronic music. This approach sounds like a novelty on paper, but in practice it clicks so smoothly that this music belongs to both decades equally. Not that the 60s and 00s are that out of sorts to begin with. Artists from Boards Of Canada to Fleet Foxes have offered their own unique takes on a vintage/modern mix; in fact, another 2007 release, Panda Bear's Person Pitch is very similar to Andorra in many regards. Yet where Person Pitch plays more like a hip hop, dub, or electronic album, Caribou here hews closer to a song oriented, melodic structure that nonetheless doesn't feel as self consciously retro as similar music from Stereolab.

One of the main touchstones I hear in this music is the Silver Apples. While Andorra does also owe a lot to late 60s/early 70s psych-pop and, especially, krautrock, it is not guitar based like those albums are. Instead it's based on driving, organic, jazzy rhythms and drum beats as well as futuristic keyboards and dreamy vocals. In other words, like the Silver Apples. It is an influence more than a blueprint, though 'Sandy' and the superb 'After Hours' do sound like more fleshed out takes on that cult band's first two albums. Meanwhile, 'Desiree' is one of the album's highlights, sounding like Caribou and no one else. The quiet and introspective first minute is gradually buffeted by orchestral samples that float in from the background, until the song blooms into a gorgeous chorus at 1:24, like an audio approximation of the flowers on the album cover.

'Niobe' is an appropriately lucid and elongated ending to the album, with the repeated refrain of “I fall so far” drifting in and out of the piece as either a statement of love or a resignation of what has been lost. Like all of Andorra, it has an affecting pop immediacy that makes you want to hear it again as soon as it's done, subsequently revealing new layers of sound and detail you hadn't noticed before. Andorra was without a doubt one of 2007's best albums, which is saying a lot considering its company.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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