in Review

2010: The Year of Swim

Caribou – Swim

What kind of music do you like? This is a question that is growing increasingly difficult for me to answer. Unless I ask iTunes Genius, which tells me all I need to do is listen to “Weekend Wars” and “Rebellion (Lies)” over and over until I don’t like music anymore. Have I used this opening before? Doesn’t matter, I’m going with it. Because when I’m confronted by something as classifiably difficult as Swim by Caribou, an album and band I knew nothing about before my first listen, I have to wonder if the art of assigning genres to music (and movies and video games, for that matter) is ultimately futile.

Swim could be described as a dance album, I guess. There certainly are plenty of pulsing beats and synthesizers. And certainly you would have a hard time singing along with the majority of the album, so wildly gesticulating to the rhythm might be the reasonable next step. And yet a significant motif throughout the album is music building up and tearing away, which could leave our dancers as confused as they are horny. Furthermore this is one of those albums that does a great job flowing from one song into the next, but I don’t imagine dance halls are known for playing 43 minute albums in their entirety.

Maybe you could call it electronic music. Swim does do the minimal, heavily repeated lyrics thing in some songs. And it definitely sounds like the majority of this album came from synthesizers. But calling an album electronic is kind of weird. What does that mean? Computers and synthesizers were used? Isn’t that like most music these days? This is pretty far from Daft Punk, Four Tet and Radiohead.

And then there’s a song like “Kaili.” There is no percussion on the track, I don’t think you’d dance to it. There are lyrics, verses and choruses. You could possibly argue it is a pop track. But it sounds entirely unique and penetrating, the music video for this song would probably scare people. And it’s a bit longer than the average pop song, checking in a little under under 5 minutes.

Whatever you want to call it, Swim is another one of those unique musical experiences that I think you have to look for. It might not be your next ringtone, or a feature on your next playlist, but it is an interesting, profound listen. This Caribou guy knows what he’s doing, as long as you’re willing to listen.

Favorite Tracks: “Odessa,” “Kaili,” “Leave House”

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