Tuesday, April 8, 2008

KQED Music: Caribou - "She's the One"

We've all heard them, those sad, delusional types who mutter darkly about how there's "no good music around these days." Unless you quickly stop them talking by deftly changing the subject or smacking them around the head with a handy length of two-by-four, they'll probably also offer a few observations on the superior quality of music from some dusty era in the past, and even trot out a few clich├ęs like "it's all just noise," or "go tidy your room."

Lazy, lazy, lazy. True, there isn't a whole lot of good music in the display racks of your local Wal-Mart or Best Buy, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There is LOADS of good music around these days. But the truth is that often it takes a bit of work to find it. You've got to do some hunting, be brave, and sometimes even expose a little bit of your soul to the open air.

But none of us are completely immune to this kind of cynicism. Occasionally, as I get older, I worry that I'm getting too old and jaded to feel that same giddy rush of excitement from hearing new music I seemed to experience every other week as a teenager. But then something comes along like "She's The One" by Caribou.

I've been aware of Dan Snaith's musical adventures since he went by the name Manitoba (he had to change it to Caribou because of a copyright dispute too tedious to relate here). But we had kind of fallen out of touch in recent years and, even though I knew he had a new record out, it took me a while to get round to hearing it.

But then I found a random link to "She's the One" on YouTube. And I was blown away. Astonished. Gobsmacked. And completely infatuated.

His voice is fuzzy and low in the mix (as it normally is), but it is the backing vocals, repeating and insistent like a Steve Reich sample that made me swoon. It doesn't sound quite like it's supposed to be there, but is also the thing that makes the song so special. On occasion the different parts are pulling in different directions so much that it sounds as if it is on the verge of falling apart into a mistimed, atonal mess. But then, like a tightrope walker in a high wind, it manages to maintain its balance and hold it together until the end. It is delicate, fragile, and utterly wonderful.

The rest of the album it comes from, Andorra, contains some more wonderful surprises, particularly in the way it manages to sound so psychedelically retro and utterly modern at the same time. But, for me, it's all about that one song, and about the power of music to make me fall hopelessly in love, over and over again.

Caribou plays The Independent in San Francisco on April 23. The single "She's the One" and album "Andorra" are both out now on Merge Records.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.