Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Our Love: Caribou and Owen Pallett

Caribou – Our Love (Merge)

Usually electronic producers start out making dance music and get more esoteric as they get older. Dan Snaith started out sampling jazz and psychedelic records, and now that he’s the father of a three-year-old—and probably not spending the wee hours out at raves—he’s making straight-up club music.

Well, not quite. There’s still a dreamy, psychedelic haze hovering over every track here, and the pretty pop melodies that began on 2006’s Andorra album percolate throughout. Much of Our Love stems from his alter ego Daphni, where he creates dance tracks in a single day using analog synths and puts them out on 12” singles (compiled on 2012’s Jiaolong). This material doesn’t sound as raw or spontaneous, but it shares the same repetitive techno pulse and influences from Africa and Asia. Owen Pallett provides some subtle string arrangements; a flute loop helps propel the hypnotic “Mars.”

Even when the tempos are sliced in half (“Dive,” “Silver,” “Back Home”), the rhythm still pushes along in 16th notes instead of 8thnotes: you can dance to these ballads, if you like. Like the best moments of Caribou’s 2010 masterpiece Swim, everything here but the beats and the bass sound sun-kissed: slightly out of focus and fading before our ears.

Snaith takes that to an extreme on “Second Chance,” featuring Jessy Lanza on vocals. It’s a beatless track where both Lanza and the synths surrounding her sound like they’re being shifted out of phase manually and unpredictably: it makes me feel nauseous.

If you’re new to Caribou, Our Love is lovely, lilting and likely the best electronic album you’ll hear this year. As someone who’s followed Snaith closely since his 2001 debut, and loved everything he’s ever done, I have to admit that Our Love leaves me a bit cold. Maybe just because it’s hard to top Swim or the visceral pleasures of Jiaolong. Maybe the ballads fall flat. Or maybe just because “Second Chance,” situated in the middle of the running order, literally turns my stomach. But I have a hard time believing Dan Snaith could ever put out a clunker—and seven albums in, there’s no sign of that yet.

Download: “All I Ever Need,” “Mars,” “Your Love Will Set You Free”

Our Love is not the first time Snaith and Pallett have collaborated;
two tracks by Daphni surfaced this summer hinted at how well the two work together. They have long been mutual admirers; Pallett covered Caribou’s “Odessa” live (a song Sarah Harmer also recently reinvented). I emailed Snaith to get background quotes for a Pallett profile I wrote earlier this year; I didn’t end up using them, but here’s some background on their relationship.

Dan Snaith
April 21, 2014

How did this new single come about?

I've been friends with Owen for a long time and always loved his music and could hear his unique talents in everything he did. He was always someone I wanted to work with. When I was in Toronto over Christmas a couple of years back I rented a studio for a few days and on different days I had different friends come in to work on recording something from scratch or from very basic loops that I'd started working on. Owen liked the drum loop from “Julia” and added the violin riff and we talked through and recorded other elements and ideas that formed the basis of the track. The final track was assembled later by sending parts back and forth. I started playing “Julia” in DJ sets a while ago and it always kicked off when I played it so I kept pestering Owen—who is a very busy man—about finishing another track to accompany “Julia.” “Tiberius” came together recently and very quickly based on discussing a few ideas over email and then sending parts back and forth.

Owen has a reputation for being a perfectionist, and someone whose music is often elaborate and meticulously planned. What did he bring to this session?

Owen is wonderful at saying what he thinks without reservation but equally wonderful, in my experience, at accepting other peoples' opinions and not needing to be in control of every decision. The music he makes sounds like the work of a perfectionist in that it's so meticulous and, well, perfectly realized, but I think he's a wonderful and natural collaborator—which is not the hallmark of a perfectionist at all. Working with him was a genuine pleasure, not just because of the music we made but also because the process: the discussion, the laughs, his insights into various musical things. That was a lot of fun and not at all like work.  

Isn’t Daphni supposed to be you by yourself making one track a day before you go out for a DJ set?

Yes, that was the original impetus and still pretty much the case with these tracks. Despite the fact that they were recorded a couple years apart, they each were recorded quite quickly: lots of fast arranging and live effects processing, etc. That's the thing that tends to happen quickly with the Daphni stuff: not necessarily coming up with the central motifs but the process of arranging the structure of the whole song tends to happen quickly so I can feel the excitement of the tension building in almost real time.

What was your reaction to his cover of Caribou’s “Odessa”?

I was really flattered. I saw it on YouTube before I got to see Owen play it live. Honestly, I thought he'd improved it! There were several ideas in his version that if I'd heard them earlier I would have stolen for the recorded version!

Why do you think so many people from different genres want to work with him?

I'm pretty sure everyone who hears Owen's music is immediately struck by his unique vision and capabilities. I first met Owen in 2002 (I think?) on the Exclaim! tour when I was playing as Manitoba with a laptop and he was playing with the Hidden Cameras. Then I sublet a room in his house at one point when I was rehearsing in Toronto. I knew of him as being a talented arranger and violinist but it wasn't until I heard his solo music that I really appreciated just how scarily talented he is. Well, also when he annihilated me at Scrabble at a party on one occasion. 

Any plans for future collaborations?

I am sworn to secrecy on the particulars of my future.

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