The Milk of Human Kindness
fter the straight-forward but sunblinding electronica of Start Breaking My Heart, Manitoba—Canadian lap-popper Dan Snaith—decided to change his tune a bit, turning out the gorgeous electro-spazz laden Up In Flames. It was an album designed to self-populate a world with no need for sight—bound by sound and the natural light source behind it. He sang for the blind leading the purblind.
Frantic beats rushed head-first into the reverberating stillness of open vistas and inorganic skyways, and though Snaith’s voice was unremarkable, its plaintive and soothing tones offset the mirth he surrounded himself with. He sank himself in the miasma chiming inside his own dome, and sunk this world with his weighty field-cut compositions. Retaining the jazzy sense of tempo and nonlinear progressions—set for overload and neuronal damage—of his debut, he added vocals and classic California-sound melodies to the mix, and in the process created one of the more intoxicating rebirths of 2003.
Now, after tours with Four Tet and Prefuse 73, and a name-change forced by a lawsuit by geriatric scrooge Handsome Dick Manitoba, Snaith has rechristened himself Caribou. In light of his continued transformation in sound, the switch is only too appropriate. Where Up In Flames sought to cripple you with syrupy compliments and thick-kneed sky-swoon, The Milk of Human Kindness forces you low to the ground, to make you tremble and sweat in the nocturnal pulsing of the soil. More groove-oriented and streamlined than its predecessor, the record owes more rhythmically to the steady, straight-lined layout of German Krautrock than beach-fronted California pop.
And yet, the album includes enough throwbacks to satisfy those seeking a continuation of Up In Flames. “Brahminy Kite” gets caught in Caribou’s trademarked psychedelic thresher before being spit out in the misfired slop of piping flutes and martial peacenik beats. Likewise, closer and recent single “Barnowl” is cooked by the same unnatural fire, charred with jumbled ecstasy and the absurd sterno energy of the three am poet.
Aside from these relatively straight-forward Manitoba tracks, oddly enough, Caribou makes his mark on Milk by following a less idiosyncratic prescription. More direct and even-keeled than the maniacal joys of Flames, it trades singularity for dead-eyed trance. The crackling rhythms and heated spark of the forest fire seem to fuel these rhythms. You can just vaguely hear the smooth turn of the earth about its axis and the gasoline gush through its dug-out spoils. Snaith slobbers across your senses still, but he does it with simpler snippets of sound and beat. Sure, you’ve heard the like before, something that couldn’t be said with Flames really, but you haven’t heard it.
With “Lord Leopard,” for example, Snaith exhumes dirt-clogged Bach and electrifies him with beat-culture life, creating a shaggy lysergic groove that hides in the shadows of ragged eclipses and sun spots. His increased understanding of sample-culture and its need for stark head-bobbing takes the floor here, pointing back to his touring with Four Tet. “Bees” is stung with fingertipped woodsmoke, serene and hairy, almost Buddhist in its chanted joys. Clipped horns sway over chopped vocal-samples and a Steve Miller-style guitar part. The penultimate “Hello Hammerheads” is close to a straight folk song, crackling with record static and the ticking of a grandfather clock under its acoustic guitars.
Perhaps less transcendent, The Milk of Human Kindness may ultimately prove more enjoyable. In leaving behind some of the patchouli, and embracing pointed rhythms over cacophonous assault, Snaith may have just created his most enduring work. Of course, wait until 2007, when he’ll lose “Caribou” to that litigious bitch Mother Nature, and seek out another moniker and another slightly-altered sound. Maybe then, I’ll be saying the same.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: APRIL 17 – APRIL 23, 2005