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Source Material

Source Material: Caribou, Swim

by Philip Sherburne

Source Material: Caribou, Swim


Dan Snaith's catalog is a wonderful example of a musical career that defies a neat, linear narrative. His debut album, Start Breaking My Heart -- originally released under his Manitoba alias, which he later changed to Caribou for legal reasons -- was greeted upon its arrival in 2001 as "folktronica," owing to the sun-kissed palette and feathery textures of his music. Years later, though, as Snaith has gone on to establish himself as a crack dancefloor producer as well as a craftsman of effusive psychedelic pop, that first album takes on new tones. Sure, "Brandon" is a hazy spray of Rhodes and ride cymbals that conjures a particularly idyllic kind of mood; but the opening "Dundas, Ontario" was essentially a home-spun interpretation of U.K. garage, a club-music style that continues to play a role in Snaith's swinging, syncopated grooves (particularly under his other alias, Daphni).

With 2003's Up in Flames and especially 2007's Andorra, Snaith opened up his sound to the psychedelic rock that has become such an important element of his full-band live show; on 2010's Swim, the attention to song-form remained, but the production style swung back towards dance music, with live percussion looped into chunky, homemade breakbeats and winsome vocals balanced by live-wire synths and dubbed-out effects.

A song like "Kaili" shows how volatile Snaith's combined influences can be, with the wheezing keyboards of James Holden's Border Community label giving way to winsome crooning, African guitar lines and buried clave rhythms. "Bowls" adapts the bell tones of Pantha Du Prince and the Dial label's minimal techno to a fuller, freakier shape; the closing "Jamelia" proves that Snaith can also get every bit as emo as Radiohead. (Small wonder that he's gone out on tour with them, then.)

The more deeply you listen to Swim, the more references suggest themselves, from the Talking Heads' action-painted funk to Carl Craig's banks of throbbing synthesizers. What's striking is how fleetingly they may appear in Caribou's music. He's a magpie, yes, but such a clever one, there's nothing in his nest that looks like stolen goods. Explore some of the albums that made Caribou's own path possible below, and sample individual sounds on our Source Material: Caribou, Swim playlist above.