Caribou--Canadian producer/Mathematics PhD Dan Snaith--has a habit of using clichés for album titles, but that's the only thing hackneyed about his music. On 2003's Up in Flames and the new The Milk of Human Kindness, Snaith exhilaratingly reinvigorates shoegazer and Krautrock, respectively. By contrast, his debut album (under the name Manitoba--more on that later), 2001's Start Breaking My Heart, is an exceptional set of bucolically melodic and rhythmically intricate IDM--a style that Snaith says he's unlikely to revisit.
But, judging from his last two full-lengths, few will regret Snaith's decision to abandon his Boards of Canada-like laptop introversion, pleasant as they were. Up in Flames dramatically raised Snaith/Manitoba's profile, earning widespread critical acclaim, which he parlayed into successful tours with Four Tet, Prefuse 73, Broadcast, and Stereolab. The ensuing media hoopla was justified. Up in Flames sounds like Mercury Rev, Spiritualized, and My Bloody Valentine jamming out euphoric psych-pop gems on a sun-kissed mountaintop.
But with momentum for Manitoba accelerating in the aftermath of Up in Flames' triumphs, and with Snaith making progress on his mathematics doctorate in London, a snag arose. A washed-up punk singer from the Dictators who'd adopted Manitoba as his last name served Snaith a court summons about his use of the moniker. Rather than become ensnared in a costly legal battle, Snaith chose Caribou after "a concoction of peyote, acid, crucifixes, and flatbed trucks and utter remoteness led to the inescapable conclusion that Caribou was the new name."
With the handle change came a new style. Milk is an explicit homage to the harmonically and rhythmic adventurous German rock of the '60s and '70s--especially groups like Can, Neu!, and Amon Duul II. Like the best Kraut rock, Milk induces feelings of psychedelic transcendence without making an obnoxious spectacle. When he's not cruising down sonic Autobahns, Snaith flexes increasingly sophisticated melodic chops and sweetly folky vocals, the latter of which has drawn some critical ire.
"I'm a crap singer," Snaith admits, "but that's not really the point. In context, I'm extremely happy with the way [my voice] sounds and it carries my personality into the music."
That personality previously was enhanced onstage with Snaith and band members Peter Mitton and Ryan Smith donning animal costumes and frequently switching instruments. But that's changing for this tour. "We aren't wearing masks anymore. Our first approach to the live show was to drown it in as much strange stimulus as possible. This time around we've certainly kept enough of that, but have also become musically cohesive and rely less on gimmickry."
What won't change is Snaith's desire to evolve. "I don't consciously try to change things each time, but I make music primarily to challenge myself and if I kept going over the same ground, I wouldn't remain interested for very long.