Dan Snaith’s career path winds through a couple names (the artist formerly know as Manitoba now calls himself Caribou), as many nations (he’s traded his old Ontario digs for a flat in London), and a multitude of styles. His first couple albums were less than memorable exercises in instrumental IDM; the excellent Milk Of Human Kindness is a set of exuberantly catchy krautrock pile-ups; and Andorra is full of love songs set to swirling, 1960s-steeped vocal melodies. His method — combining played, programmed, and sampled material so it fits together without drawing attention to the joins — is more consistent.
Swim sets the more developed tunecraft that Snaith has practiced on recent records to his first set of dance grooves in half a dozen years. When it works, it speaks more accessibly than anything else he’s done, and also attests to his growing ability to snag your attention without throwing all of the kitchen sink’s contents at you. “Odessa” has a hook that’s easy to remember but hard to peg — is that pitch-shifted trumpet, a chimp’s cry, or some decontextualized nose flutes? — and several layers of simple, interlocking rhythms that spin around one of his most confident vocal performances. “Found Out” balances a big robotic beat with light, androgynous singing, and sticks it together with a perfectly economical guitar lick. And “Leave House,” with its swooping bass, looped flute and chirping chorus, manages to make agoraphobia sound anthem-worthy. Other tracks feel needlessly stretched out, and one hopes that the queasy synth voice that squelches all over “Sun” and “Hannibal” is just a passing phase.
Swim also represents Snaith’s attempt to transcend pop referentiality and establish a personal sonic vocabulary. Once more, he’s only half successful, but I wouldn’t hold that against him since the failures are pretty listenable. With its cookware percussion and sweeping harp sample, “Bowls” sounds like it would fit right in on Four Tet’s Rounds, but that doesn’t make it any less ingratiating. And the fact that “Jamelia” sounds like the punch line to the question “What if Arthur Russell rose from the dead and made a record with Burial” does no harm to its appeal.