Caribou – “Andorra

J.B. Sivanich

It’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa holiday season. Fortunately, Dan Snaith, the man behind Caribou, has created the perfect present, a pop mini-masterpiece that is guaranteed to please. “Andorra” grabs the listener from the opening two-note electronic riff of “Melody Day” and keeps the interest level high until the ascending synth line of “Niobe” that closes the album 40 or so minutes later.At root, the nine tracks of “Andorra” are divided into three types of songs, with each subgenre encompassing a perfect third of the album: upbeat rockers, slower love songs and propulsive drawn-out electronic jams. Luckily, Snaith proves himself proficient in each medium.

Every song seems effortlessly structured for excellence. Melodic loops propel bridges, beats change according to sections and the level instrumentation rises and falls in such an organic way, it seems as if Snaith found some magic formula that allows him to apply music to the law of gravity. There is a sense of a push and pull, hold and release, whether in terms of the album or just within the individual songs that is hard to distinguish as brilliantly planned or happily stumbled upon. Whichever it is, it adds an emotional depth that is lacking in other records that are so hook-oriented and “poppy” in general.

However good the structure is, it is the arrangements of each individual song that really make this record stand out. Many of the instruments are generated from synthesizers but instead of seeming fake or cheap they come off as endearingly toyish. Amidst the distortion and ambient feedback that appears almost unnoticeably, their sounds blend into a cohesive whole. It’s only the piano at the end of “Niobe,” which is the single token “organic” instrument besides Snaith’s voice and a drum set that seems to stick out, sounding brittle and dull against the drum machine-generated ambience.

Due to this ambitious production style, that Snaith should be commended just on the basis of its brute consistency, “Andorra” ranks up there with a select few Radiohead albums and maybe an Interpol track or two as music that requires multiple listens before the bigger picture can be grasped. Each time I listened, whether by effort or accident, I started to notice other instruments and harmonies I did not know were there at first; I started discovering patterns and rhythmic motives that made listening to this record for the whole first week so exciting (I think I listened nine straight times in the first two days).

Classifying this record has its difficulties. The term “pop” seems more stylistic in nature than genre-defining. Though most of the songs on the record use typical rock instrumentation (drums, bass, guitar/keyboards, voice) as their foundation, the record falls much easier under the umbrella of electronica. Rhythm is applied in loops and sound organizes itself into layers. For every quick hook, there is a distorted ambience that lazily remains for pre-determined intervals. The sound evokes a late-’60s pyschedelia with its choice of instrumentation and lyrical content that carries the upbeat and carefree implied attitude — “Andorra” is definitely a CD designed for summer.

Though it’s difficult to say, the best song on “Andorra” is probably one of the love ballads, “Desiree.” The song opens with just Snaith’s introverted voice and a simple chord progression. Eventually, synthesized flutes and strings add subtle flourishes before the harpsichord pre-chorus gives way to a lush chamber orchestra chorus, propelled by a melodic bass line and Snaith’s voice at its most raw as he repeats the name “Desiree.” The energy level remains high, repeating the chorus once more before ending in a minute-long outro of a repeated harp loop that shifts between right and left stereos and a descending organ line.

The only real drawback of the record is Snaith’s lyrics. Most are ballads of puppy love as evidenced by the titles “She’s the One,” “Desiree,” “Irene,” “Sandy,” with lyrics such as, “Will she be waiting when I call / Will she be there?” Snaith’s voice remains quiet and reserved for most of the record, and in some spots it almost seems like he is whispering the melody. This makes some of the lyrics intelligible but with so many layers of instrumentation going on, most of the time it does not seem to matter.

The sad fact is that “Andorra,” due to its inability to be categorized into a niche market and indie-label publicity, will fall through the cracks only to be fondly listed as one of the best “forgotten” albums in future issues of the Onion A.V. club. The irony in that is that “Andorra,” due to its accessibility and pop sensibilities, could be truly enjoyed by so many.