Monday, April 14, 2008

The Milk of Human Kindness - Caribou (SCQ Spring 2008)

The Milk of Human Kindness

Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

Up in Flames was one of my top records of 2003 because, put simply, it never let up. The drumming catastrophes, keyboard effects and muddled vocals were all at their maximal, yet Dan Snaith always managed to walk that tightrope that separates perfection from head-aching excess. Little has changed in terms of Snaith’s muse; he is still hell-bent on distorting the psychedelic music of yore, only now he’s filtering more 70s kraut-rock than 60s hippie-chic. However where the chaos was front and centre on Up in Flames, Caribou’s latest is mobile, sometimes approachably anarchic and other times withdrawn. It’s clear that much has changed as far as Snaith’s technique goes.

The opening frenzy of ‘Yeti’ yields a human heart, as Snaith’s effect-free vocals are heard for the first time on record. Although lyrical content is infrequent, it adds a surprisingly tender component to ‘Hello Hammerheads’, a pulsating folk song with haunting undertones. In most other songs, Snaith shows off an altogether more refined production strategy, providing quieter moments that are just as exciting as his classic detonations of percussion. ‘A Final Warning’ is the best case in point, where Snaith explores a jungle of possibilities beneath a steady rhythm that never wears thin at over seven minutes in length. A similar trajectory is audible in ‘Barnowl’ (though admittedly more purposeful and with a giant pay-off), which boasts The Milk of Human Kindness’s pinnacle moment where Snaith maintains his song on the brink of suspense and then suddenly sends it careening into a noisy oblivion.

Alas, these highlights are somewhat blunted by several tracks that, in spite of showing tremendous promise, are sidelined to interlude status. Whether Snaith left them in their unfinished state because he ran out of time or couldn’t decide where to take them, I’m not sure, but I can tell you that this record would’ve been considerably better if ‘Pelican Narrows’ had been fleshed out. Although many songs here benefit from Snaith’s restraint, the strategy of holding promise instead of executing it crosses the line when the album is suffering. Still an exciting, albeit fragmented listening experience.

No comments: