J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Monday, September 03, 2007

Now Departing

(Merge ; 2007)

It's sort of a cliché in criticism to reach for the 'old sounds with new touches' view of records. But it does beg a question: if we keep going to the well so often, whether it's for song structures, lyrical touches or anything else, are we not about to run dry? The 'is rock and roll dead' question is cliché also, but it at least has us asking, so where are we going at this point?

As much as every movement in art builds on, or is a reaction against, something before it, the creators within genres are constantly doing the same thing to their stylistic contemporaries. Enter Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, and his mining equipment. The surface comparisons are easy to make - the Beach Boys immediately come to mind as Snaith's high, soaring layered vocals sail through songs like wind through the trees. But as much as this may be correct, it's not the entirety of the picture. Flourishes of early-prog keyboards (ala Pink Floyd, et. al.) are sprinkled through opening track "Melody Day." Many tracks hold onto the scaffolding of Paisley Underground posturing ("Eli" and "Sandy," especially). Even electronic sequencing and trills, once the laziest of lazy 'updates' to sounds back in the 90s, here find a suitable home amongst the pop landscaping.

The only track that stands distinctly away from the others is album closer "Niobe." Coming in at nearly 9 minutes in length, it's an electronic, hypnotic piece that ends the album on a note that, while not ruining anything, certainly is a bit of an abrupt shift from the rest of the record. It's a good song, but with the feel of the rest of the album fairly uniform, it seems out of place at the end of the album. It would've been worse in the middle, but it's still a bit jarring at the end.

I'm not going to sit here and argue that Caribou is defying the trends here. I'm not hearing anything terribly new that I didn't hear, at least in a more organic form, done by the various Elephant 6 collective members back in the 90s and early 00s. But the songwriting and structuring is not only on par with a lot of that magnificent work, but is far and away one of the most engaging classicist pop records I've heard in quite some time. It is a paean to a bygone era of rock and roll - one which certainly is in no danger of returning to pre-emanence, but which still fascinates and engages a new group of listeners every year. But rather than sounding like a conscious effort to sound like that far flung time, Snaith has engineered a record that sounds like it never went away, and continued on its merry way into the new millenium.

Rating: E(xceptional)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Decide for Yourself:

Caribou - Melody Day

Caribou - She's the One (removed by request)

Caribou - Eli (removed by request)

Buy the album from EMusic.

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