Inspired by his newfound love for swimming, Dan Snaith’s (Caribou) new album, the appropriately titled Swim, is the celebration of things both new and old — old in that the album is a return to the techno-minded dance music he’d recently abandoned in favor of electro-pop on both Andorra (2007) and The Milk of Human Kindness (2005). Indeed, the spring-loaded beat loops and synth washes that made so many of his albums (particularly under the “Manitoba” banner) memorable are back. But Swim also possesses a new sense of frequency and oscillation that yields a triumphant balance between the dynamic (dancefloor) and the static (headphones).
Melodically, Swim engages the listener with notions of both surfacing and submergence. Sounds toggle between muted and crystalline from measure to measure, while synthesizers oscillate in and out of the aural field, as if the sounds are gently lapping into one another in tiny waveforms. But there are also moments of stylistic tension. The quasi-Eastern soundscape “Bowls” incorporates the whining resonance of singing bowls with linear harp chords. But while the track’s eventual convergence with dance beats underscores charm and intrigue, it also exemplifies what’s occasionally frustrating about the album: the ultra-pure, bubbling, alien worlds that Snaith creates are so immersing that it’s almost a shame when they evolve into something “danceable.”
Tracks like opener “Odessa,” then, which garble under watery bass beats and dissonant percussion, work best. Snaith’s soft falsetto carries the mix through organic and mechanized squawks and bells with a synth melody that surges to and from the fore. “Kaili” similarly gyrates forth, as subtle brass and woodwinds guide it along through beatless space. “Sun,” meanwhile, exercises the concept of lucidity as it plays an aggressive melody against a standard beat cycle. Snaith’s simple vocal “sun” escalates in clarity, each utterance becoming increasingly more crystalline as it surfaces.
With Swim, Caribou has transcended the confines of indie pop and electronica. At one time a prominent member of both camps, Dan Snaith here has ceased being a sound manipulator. Instead he’s evolved his music toward the forces of nature, finding foremost focus on dimension and frequency rather than on notes and rhythm. Swim is the sound of immersion and exposure, beat flowing into melody into tone and movement — in essence, the world as heard through water.