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Baker's Dozen

Beautiful Colours Everywhere: Dan Snaith Of Caribou's Favourite LPs
Joe Clay , October 30th, 2014 12:08

Deep in the middle of a worldwide tour to promote his new album Our Love, Dan Snaith takes some time to pore over his favourite albums and tells Joe Clay about "the music that I grew up with"

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Photograph courtesy of Thomas Neukum

On Facebook at the moment, you might have seen folk nominating their friends to list their top ten favourite albums. They often make for interesting reading, as you can generally spot those who have done exactly that - listed their favourite albums without pretence - with those who have used as it as an exercise in showing off eclectic tastes; the more obscure the better. It must be tempting for artists taking part in this website's Baker's Dozen feature to do the same - after all, we've all witnessed the griping BTL when yet another Dylan or VU album gets the nod.

"I wanted to put more obscure records on here, some of the rarer things I've got," confesses Dan Snaith aka Caribou, maths boffin and musical genius; teetotaller and Canuck settled in London. "But then I thought, I shouldn't really just put something on here to show off that I've got it."

Instead, the list we get - while featuring many records that are appearing in this feature for the first time - has definitely come straight from the heart. Snaith has eclectic tastes, but when you listen to his extensive back catalogue, which now encompasses seven albums and various EPs under his Caribou, Daphni and Manitoba guises, you can hear echoes of the artists and bands included in his Baker's Dozen. The only albums that aren't properly represented by the list are his last two, 2010's breakthrough Swim, and the recent, awesome Our Love. But there's a reason for that.

"I've been listening to music for so long and being really obsessive about it, particularly in my early 20s, that it's become harder to find albums that I really love that I didn't know before," he explains. "I thought I was still an album person, but I realised that I don't listen to albums as much as I used to. I still listen to music when I'm recording, but it's mostly lots of old disco 12"s and rare soul records."

That statement shines through when you consider Our Love. It still sounds like a Caribou record, but it is definitely the most dance-centric and soulful record that Snaith has made under the moniker, referencing Chicago house, electronic R&B, Arthur Russell and the man himself's recorded excursions as Daphni, with a firm grasp of dancefloor dynamics honed by marathon DJ sets, and the odd flute solo informed by a lifetime love of prog.

"It's by far the most personal record I've ever made. It seems like the most natural thing to me in my life, having had a little kid [a daughter in 2011] and been releasing music for 14 years - those things made me take stock and think, 'What are the most important things to me? What do I want to be in my music and say with my music?' And not just the lyrics, though they're far more personal than ever before - I wanted to have that sense of warmth and sharing that I hear in those Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders records [artists that feature in his BD]. That's something new for me, because I've always been more inward looking."

It was the joyous response to Swim, Snaith's weirdest and most idiosyncratic album, but also his most popular - so far - that has imbued him with the confidence to make the record that he wants. It makes perfect sense that a positive reaction to one record can shape how an artist approaches the next one. You often hear musicians say that they make music primarily for themselves and if anyone else likes it that's a bonus, but the feeling here is that Snaith is doing the opposite - he is opening up to his audience and making a record for them, but about him - like a loved-up raver sharing his innermost feelings and thoughts.

"It's funny, but I always used to be the guy who was the cliché, who just makes music for himself. It's true to an extent, but I also think that part of the reason why people say that is that there's this perceived tension or contradiction between artistic integrity and doing what you want and on the other hand, a more populist idea of wanting to share something. Part of our assessment of music is that there is that division - you're either doing one or the other. The reason why I felt like making this record is that I didn't feel that tension or contradiction. Swim was my most personal record, yet it was the one that translated more than all the other albums previous to that. That was such an affirmation. It means I don't have to choose anymore. If I want to make music that's more generous and outward-looking, I can."

Of course you can't please all of the people all of the time. There are still some (myself included at times, I confess) who might watch The Pink Room sessions on YouTube and long for that vintage of Caribou - the dude who made the free-form, kaleidoscopic psychedelia of Up In Flames and the Krautrock/60s pop-inflected The Milk Of Human Kindness. Snaith has a considered response.

"I totally understand that and sympathise with people who've been listening to my records for a long time. The people who say, 'I liked what you were doing in the past.' I've had lots of bands that I have that feeling about - that diverged from what I really liked about them. First of all, you can't chase those things. You're playing a game that you can't win. But also I feel like whenever I sit down to make a record, there's only one record that I can make. It might not be obvious what it is at the beginning but it's in there and it's coming out. That's probably illusory to some degree, but if I sat down and tried to make another Krautrock/Silver Apples record, I feel like it wouldn't work."

Getting back on subject, it is clear that Snaith spent a lot of time considering and choosing the records on this list.

"A lot of these albums are so evocative of a particular time in my life when I really loved that music and invested a lot of time listening to it. These are the ones that I listened to over and over again. I don't do that so much these days, maybe because there's so much music around. I'm not sure. The experience isn't the same for some reason. Some of them have been with me for a long time, which makes sense because part of what I love about them is that they are embedded in my life. In some ways this list represents the music that I grew up with. These are the albums that have been the bedrock for me."

Our Love is out now on City Slang/Merge. Caribou plays the Warehouse Project in Manchester tomorrow, before touring Europe and the US; for full details, head to his website. Click on his image below to begin scrolling through Dan's choices


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Oct 30, 2014 1:14pm

Some interesting stuff and I love Dan's music. Just don't get Neutral Milk Hotel though to the point of not being able to get past a couple of songs in...
Can anyone explain?

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ad hominem
Oct 30, 2014 1:24pm

In reply to paul:

i don't like using words like 'hate' to describe music but i think if a band ever were to come close to warranting it for me, it would be NMH. i even saw them last year, but it didn't make them any easier to palate. for me, that voice is the main obstacle. but hey, shoot me at dawn.

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Oct 30, 2014 1:56pm

Alice Coltrane. Again.

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Oct 30, 2014 2:12pm

In reply to Mark:

nothing wrong with that. i fucking love that record too.

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Oct 30, 2014 2:51pm

Cool list!

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Oct 30, 2014 3:21pm

In reply to ad hominem:

Ha. No need for that. The voice, everything. Quite a few of the people I like and respect 'dig' that record but I'm with you on this. I go back to it year after year and it just grates...urgh.

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Oct 30, 2014 3:25pm

In reply to :

Ctd. year after year because I think I should like it. Have to break the habit.

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Oct 30, 2014 3:30pm

In reply to paul:

@Paul - are you in the UK (I know this is a Brit publication, but don't want to assume?)

NMH aren't for everyone (they are not always for me, either), but I think there're some distinctly "American" strains in what they are doing; the way their music works, to me at its best, is like accidentally wandering with a head full of acid into some backwoods revival tent, and the preacher is speaking in tongues and people are handling snakes and people are rolling around on the floor, possessed with an epiphany and a voice that can't be put into words.

And then a marching band falls down the stairs.

This is, believe it or not, an endorsement.

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Oct 30, 2014 3:50pm

In reply to Glyph:

Thanks, and, yes, I'm in the Uk. I like your description of the music and I could apply it to some of the stuff I do like and that would work. But applying it to NMH just does not cut it for me. More superlatives for a band I just don't get. I'm just always amazed at the praise it does get. But respect to you for being so animated about the music. That I do respect.

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Oct 30, 2014 3:54pm

In reply to Glyph:

Poor syntax apology but the sentiment is there, I hope.

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Oct 30, 2014 4:04pm

In reply to paul:

@paul - no worries, I got it.

As a diehard US Anglophile, I often dig stuff that my contemporaries find "too English" - but every once in a while, I run into something critically-acclaimed that's even too English for me. The cultural context is just too far removed from where I am, to allow me any easy entry into it.

That said, plenty of Americans don't 'get' NMH either, my wife among them. It's definitely an acquired taste. When Modest Mouse were starting out, I got some of the same feeling there, except Brock was more "demented carnival barker" than "preacher".

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Oct 30, 2014 4:16pm

Great selection. I am also obsessed with American jazz from the late 60s and early-to-mid 70s, and similarly found it strange that as an atheist I was so into all of this massively spiritual music, so it was great to read him articulate so well the feeling I get when listening to stuff like Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. It's that total loss of ego and the sense of these musicians having such an incredibly deep, almost transcendental connection with the music... Personally my favourite Pharoah album is "Elevation" and my fav Alice is "World Galaxy" - I implore people to check those out if they don't know 'em and are enjoying the ones Mr Snaith mentions.
I don't get Neutral Milk Hotel either though, ha.

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Oct 30, 2014 4:44pm

who knew prince william had such good taste

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Oct 30, 2014 7:17pm

Regarding Jeff Mangum and the Neutral Milk Hotel: If the vocalist of a band sets your teeth on edge, why pursue things further? Go ahead and hate.

I love NMH, but it's been overplayed where I come from. I saw them live back in the early days and a mixed audience of young and old couldn't take their eyes off the band. They were riveting, serious and fun all at once.

The moment they were the biggest thing going in the U.S. rock underground, they folded up their tent. Now they have a mystique because they made two good records and quit (more bands should try this). That mystique is a big part of the illogical fandom you have had to puzzle through. It's just a pop record, but it has a resonant simplicity along with that faux-obscurity mystique to recommend it. Young people nowadays love that shit.

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Oct 30, 2014 9:46pm

"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" is one of my big favourites, and its presence on this list makes me interested in the rest of the selections. To me it's the soundtrack of a brain that's been plugged into the mains output of the universe, loving the energy but getting killed by it at the same time.

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Oct 30, 2014 10:45pm

In reply to paul:

I'm the same man. Pretty much every album on this list I have and like (probably why I like Caribou too!) except NMH. I just can't do it....

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Trevor Fox
Oct 30, 2014 11:25pm

I wish people in my high school know/listen to Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr....

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The Disexists
Oct 31, 2014 2:36am

wow, it's very rare i click so closely with an artist's tastes, but I have every single one of these albums in my collection! That is mindblowing. I'm not even that big a fan of Snaith's music. I liked Up in Flames, and I bought Andorra but never really dug it. But his tastes are pretty much idenitical to mind. that's cool. i'm going to pull all 13 of these out today and play them over the next week.

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The Disexists
Oct 31, 2014 2:42am

In reply to The Disexists:

..I lied. I don't have the rap record. #13. Might get it though, just because, huh.

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Oct 31, 2014 12:05pm

Except for the banal Neutral Milk lp-- hey, I'm crying too-- a fine list,even if Dilla is glaringly overrated... Caribooooooooooooo!!!

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The MightyKage
Nov 1, 2014 2:38am

Duds on Axis:Bold as Love?

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