Caribou ‘Our Love’ – Review

10 Dec

It’s been a bit of a bad year of populist dance music. Basement Jaxx comeback album was underwhelming, sophomore releases by Rustie and SBTRKT were good but disappointingly slight, Orbital called it a day, prodigy’s album failed to materialise, long awaited debuts by Tensnake and Skrillex were hit and miss, EDM is still unfathomable popular and nobody new has truly capitalised on the runaway success of Disclosure, Rudimental and Duke Dumont. Truly great stuff has been coming out in small doses through boutique labels like PC Music and R&S, whilst Todd Terje has released hands down one of the best records of the year – but 2014 still feels like a let down.

Enter Caribou. Saying Caribou make dance music is like saying The Beatles were a rock band or Deafheaven make black metal. It’s true in a sense but it’s too reductive. Caribou’s songs are rooted in house music but structured almost like prog. He flirts excitedly with bass music, but the pop melodies undo the hip posturing. There lurks the atmosphere of deep house, especially in the tempos and drum sounds, but the overwhelming feeling is one of euphoria and joy which rather goes against everything that deep House suggests. If I had to label ‘Our Love’ I would say that it is some kind of psychedelic House music that has yet to be named. Not Acid House, but something altogether more contemporary, inspirational and moving.

To my ears, ‘Our Love’ re appropriates the characteristics of psychedelia for a modern audience more effectively than any record since Animal Collective’s ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’. The synths are elastic and weird, the structures are unusual and unpredictable, the harmonies are reverby, shadowy and are often twisted, distorted and warped in and out of focus. Listen to the way the simple phrase ‘I love you’ is toyed with over and over again on ‘our Love’ to convey how such a statement is far from being as clear and straightforward as it initially appears. Those words are some of the most loaded in the English language and with minimalist effort Caribou nails that complexity.

There is an argument being made on ‘Our Love’, and the argument is both musical and lyrical. It’s there in the celebratory, rising notes at the climax of ‘Silver’, It’s there in the classic bass step that intrudes unexpectedly half way through the title track. It’s there in the album’s many mantras: ‘I can’t do without you’, ‘Your love will set you free’, ‘I just want to be with my next love as much as I can be’, ‘I love you’. The argument is that love is unpredictable, absorbing, destructive but nourishing, complex and ultimately essential to a sense of completeness.

Nothing In ‘Our Love’ is ever straightforward. If you think you’ve figured a song out, your probably haven’t. When you think you know which direction it’s going in, it will snap, bend or dissolve all together. It’s a surprising record but at the same time it’s approachable, snappy, inviting and enjoyable.

Dan Snaith Is a good melodist (even if ‘Our Love’ is short of truly classic tunes) and a capable singer. His falsetto isn’t scene stealing, as he seems to be aware, but as another element in the mix it is effective. His personality seeps through the voice more on ‘Our Love’ than it has on any of his previous records. However the album’s centrepiece belongs to another singer Jessy Lanza Sings ‘Second Chance’ In a turn that recalls classic house but equally reminds me of recent r&b singers such as Jessie Ware.

‘Our Love’ is a concise and unassuming record, unlike the other great Dance records of the last couple of years (‘Settle’, ‘Glass Swords’, ‘Random Access Memories’) it leans towards minimalism rather than maximalism. A little more ambition, exploration and depth may have elevated it even further, but there is equally the chance that it would have undone the record’s balance, or lost some of the central meaning. The clarity of ‘Our Love’ amidst all the complexity is what ultimately makes it such a transcendental album.

8.5/10

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