Caribou, Apparat, Mathew Dear and more feature on Amygdala, the first album in eight years from eccentric German producer DJ Koze.
Dan Snaith’s career has taken quite a startling path from his earliest days on Leaf Records crafting bucolic electronica as Manitoba, before switching to the Caribou moniker yet continuing on a largely similar path. However 2010’s Swim was something of a watershed moment for the Canadian producer, as his indie-inflected, worldly sound managed that rare feat of striking a chord with all and sundry. He allowed in just enough house music to be embraced by the contemporary club scene (leading to a remix of Virgo Four for Rush Hour no less),while keeping enough solid song structures, vocals and organic instrumentation to keep less dance music savvy listeners on side. It’s always refreshing to see artists forge their own determinedly distinct sound and gain acceptance across the board, and it really seemed to come at no expense in terms of quality.
While the humble remix has long been a trusty staple of dance music culture, it’s rare to hear a genuinely innovative or aurally stunning rework. Too often, labels see the choice of remixers as part of the marketing process, making decisions on sales targets rather than artistic merit. Luckily, some labels do “get it”, though. Rush Hour is one of those labels. When they asked Space Dimension Controller and Falty DL to remix Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir’s loopy Detriot techno classics, they knew they’d plumped for two new school electronic producers who would take Shakir’s grooves in thrilling new directions. So it proved, with both remixes now considered near classic re-interpretations.
This new 12” and digital release clearly shows evidence of similar thinking from Rush Hour. This time round, it’s Virgo Four’s dusty Chicago jack getting the remix treatment, with Caribou and Hunee providing the remixes. Like the choice of Shakir remixers, these are both inspired picks. Caribou, in particular, is an interesting choice. Dan Snaith has taken on a flurry of remix comissions in recent times, with this effort dropping alongside tweaks of Art Department and Radiohead. Prior to that, the thrillingly out-there rework of Kelley Polar from 2008 was the high watermark for his ability in this area.
In its original form, Virgo Four’s “It’s A Crime” – first released on the brilliant Resurrection box set – is a cheery, piano-laden Chicago jacker from the tail end of the 1980s. Snaith’s version, however, is an altogether more atmospheric beast. Where the drums were previously simple and unfussy, the Canadian opts for dubbed-out live drums and hissing jazz cymbals. There’s a weary new vocal from Snaith, which spars with samples of Virgo Four’s original chorus vocal. There are also superb jazz keys, a touch of 303 wizardry and a seedy atmosphere that recasts the song as a late night lament sung by a busker in a dimly lit back alley. It’s mesmerizing.
Hunee’s version is almost as inspired. The Korean-in-Berlin takes the original’s piano-laden cheeriness and runs with it, turning in a version that recalls classic Inner City or Ten City. Think soaring synth strings and horns, deliciously thick synth bass-driven grooves and clattering 808 handclaps.
Dan Snaith’s career has never really looked in danger of approaching stagnation thanks to his chameleon approach to musical style. Over the course of six albums, the Canadian has touched on experimental electronics, leftfield krautrock and gloriously kaleidoscopic psychedelic pop. All this before he arrived at the Border Community leaning organic swerve betwixt house and techno which characterised his most lauded work to date in last year’s Swim – indeed it was lauded as the best album of 2010 on these very pages.
It’s perhaps this recent widespread critical acclaim that has lead Snaith to start producing new material under a shiny new alias in Daphni. He is of course no stranger to name changes, being the victim of one of the music world’s most bizarre lawsuits that forced him to abandon the Manitoba moniker (under which he produced the startling album Up In Flames which is worth seeking out for those unfamiliar).
Snaith introduced an enraptured audience to a raft of new Daphni material on his submission to the Podcast Hall Of Fame overseen by Resident Advisor earlier this year. The subsequent vinyl only double drop of Daphni and Four Tet on the latter’s Text imprint seems to have been sucked down the plughole of memory thanks to the axis of hype operated by Thom Yorke and Burial.
The latest slice of Daphni ingenuity comes via the newly formed Resista label, with Snaith flexing his editing skills on two lesser spotted oddities. “Mapfumo” touches on African Highlife, with Snaith extending and embellishing Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited’s 1986 track “Shumba”. Initially staying faithful to the original, it’s the midway arrival of a skeletal 4×4 thump where Snaith begins to weave his magic. The intricate guitar melodies skip in and out of focus as a stuttering wall of sub bass fills before the vocals slide back in and the newly fattened groove rides out.
As pleasant as “Shumba” is, the real fire is reserved for the B Side with Snaith dropping the tribal brain cell failure inducing throb of “NPE” – a primal post punk track supposedly lifted from mid 80s Dutch obscurity. If you can imagine Demdike Stare recreating the visceral energy of Liquid Liquid and throwing in some slowed down samples from The Flirts most ubiquitous moment then you might have a grasp on how devilishly good this sounds.
Kindred spirits and long term friends Caribou and Four Tet will soon be sharing a side of wax with the news that the latter’s Text imprint is preparing to unleash a split twelve inch which offers fans the first opportunity to financially indulge in material from Caribou’s new alias Daphni.
Much deliberation, heated debate, banging of fists and vociferous dismissal took place within the walls of Juno Plus before we arrived at the list you see below. 2010 has been a particularly strong year for all strands of electronic music which is more than evident in the surfeit of genres included on this list. Each of these releases however are albums in the truest sense of the word; something you can pop on at home, in the car, wherever, and soak up over its entirety…
Dan Snaith is impossible to second guess; since his emergence on the Leaf label as Manitoba with Start Breaking My Heart in 2001, every subsequent release has veered in differing musical directions, with a craft and mastering of music that has gained him an ever increasing fan base. That debut is perhaps one of the more revered albums in the over stuffed genre that is the dreaded IDM.
This gave no clue as to the nature of his 2003 follow up, Up In Flames, which was a splendid explosion of Vitamin D-infused psychedelia and heavily percussive cosmiche grooves with the added bonus of vocals from Stones Throw veteran Koushnik.
2005′s The Milk Of Human Kindness under the legally enforced name change of Caribou took on an organic approach to hip-hop grooves and heavily percussive distorted funk outs. Andorra, Snaith’s 2007 album saw his song writing come to the fore combined with the natty sampling with the end product sounding like a forgotten masterpiece from the acid pop of the 1960s.
Flash forward three years and Snaith presents Swim his fifth, and perhaps best, album to date. “Odessa”, the album’s opening track will be familiar to most as City Slang released it as a free download earlier this year to give a taster of what to expect. For those that missed it, “Odessa” is the culmination of what happens when you throw together a mid nineties piano house line, some vocals remarkably reminiscent of Erlend Oye, a suitably bouncy bass-line and the sound of a chicken being strangled.
What follows is that most strange of things, a consistently brilliant dance album from a producer you would not normally associate with house and minimal techno. Previous interviews with Snaith have seen him disclose a love for Border Community boss James Holden, and that much is in evidence throughout, most notably on “Sun”, where crashing jazz percussion melds into an amazing throb of techno bliss. Indeed, the chime filled “Bowls” has already been earmarked for a remix by the amusingly coiffured Holden
It’s easy to focus on the music, brilliant as it is, and not pay attention to the vocals, for the most part sung by Snaith himself in that familiar Oye-esque voice and focusing mostly on the dynamics of relationship, most notably on “Odessa” and “Leave Home”. It’s only on album closer “Jamelia” that Snaith relinquishes vocal duties with Born Ruffians front man Luke Lalonde in what mutates sonically several times in the space of four minutes.
Swim is a brilliant album which will either grab you immediately or lodge itself in your cerebral cortex over time and is certainly one of the best releases to date this year.
Review: Tony Poland