Caribou: Start Breaking My Heart

Caribou: Up In Flames

There is an upside to Dan Snaith's enforced moniker change from Manitoba to Caribou, specifically the re-release of his earlier albums under the new name. The re-issue of Snaith's 2001 debut Start Breaking My Heart includes the original disc plus a second containing B-sides and EP material; 2003's Up In Flames also gets the two-disc treatment with the second featuring rarities and videos. The earlier material holds up well and its heady mix of electronic music, psychedelia, folktronica, gamelan, and jazz clearly showcases Snaith's panoramic range. The feel is experimental but always musical with warm Rhodes melodies the oft-stabilizing nuclei for a free-flowing swirl of instruments and drums. Despite the multi-directional approach and bold merging of acoustic and electronic sounds, Snaith's sensibility pervades all of it, imposing cohesion where there could just as easily have been incoherence.

Though the words Caribou and Kompakt are rarely heard in the same sentence, “Dundas, Ontario” opens Start Breaking My Heart with a mellow slice of Cologne-styled techno that could comfortably fit onto any number of Total comps. In “People Eating Fruit,” a shape-shifting electronica exercise, a sweet Rhodes melody crosses paths with an even sweeter vocal line while the bucolic “Children Play Well Together” offers a sampling of Snaith's folktronic leanings. His kinship with compadre Four Tet comes forth throughout, specifically on the African-jazzy “Mammals vs Reptiles,” its drum attack as furious as it is inventive, “Schedules & Fares,” and “Paul's Birthday” (check out the latter's distinctive mix of trumpet, harp, and acoustic bass and its segue from free-form to funk and then rambunctious wail). Some of it sounds sketchier, like bedroom experiments that found their way into the final track listing (Snaith seems to throw every idea at “James' Second Haircut,” hoping it'll settle into something significant) but it's an auspicious and accomplished debut nonetheless. The nearly hour-long second disc is a more than credible complement: tracks like the 10-minute slow-builder “Evan Likes Driving,” tripped-out “Anna and Nina,” and acidy raver “If Assholes Could Fly, This Place Would Be An Airport” are hardly sloppy seconds.

Up In Flames' opener “I've Lived on a Dirt Road All My Life” immediately ups the psychedelic ante and the subsequent “Skunks” finds Snaith even more comfortable in an increasingly explorative skin. The album's robust material fulminates even more confidently than the debut, with Snaith venturing out into the blinding desert sunlight on trippy cuts like “Hendrix with Ko” and “Bijoux” and smooth vocal harmonies deepening the ‘60s vibe. Though the second disc is half the length of the first album's bonus, the Up In Flames set does include two videos even if, par for the course, the two are mildly entertaining but inessential (“Jacknuggeted” follows two golf-ball headed characters tripping out in a sunlit forest setting, and “Skunks” features some cleverly animated child-like drawings). Like Start Breaking My Heart 's bonus tracks, accompanying material like “Cherrybomb” and “Thistles and Felt” is so polished it could easily have been included on the formal Up In Flames release.

September 2006