Andorra, the latest release from Ontario-based digital maestro Daniel Snaith, is about as good of an indie electronica release you’re likely to hear all year. Snaith has been playing under the name of Caribou since 2004 after the threat of a lawsuit from punk rocker Dick Manitoba forced him to change his previous title of the same name. Whatever Canada-inspired moniker he chooses to adopt, what hasn’t changed is his ability to direct his own sonic landscapes into a diamond-honed product. Still in his late-20s, Snaith has demonstrated a powerful presence as a producer and digital musician. The music of Andorra ranks as not only some of his most intricate work, but also that which finds itself in good standing to make top-10 lists for 2007.
Too often, electronica artists tack on vocals as an afterthought, either as samples or guest spots. Snaith is able to create lush worlds with his acid rock voice and command behind the mixing board. If The Moody Blues had started in the digitized age, this is probably what they would have sounded like. “Sandy,” with its distant, from-the-top-of-the-Alps vocals and eastern string mashes, sounds like an updated version of something the baroque Birmingham boys would have cranked out in the late ‘60s. Phaser effects stretch the melodies like putty and the bass drops like a piston. The stoic escalator ascension of “Sundialing” gives way to washes of sound straight from old school ‘80s video game midi. Snaith’s vocals recall the acid-drenched shaman verses of “Timothy Leary’s Dead.”
Snaith’s layering is a subtle, yet complex affair, and he’s able to mix the right amount of sound and ambience without threatening overload or gloss. The closing “Niobe” marches like a mechanized column of automatons behind Snaith’s deadpan vocals. The synth weaves in on itself like wind chimes and the interludes boast aerial dogfights of extremely textured sound that writhe and soar beautifully. Clocking in at nine minutes, it’s a dazzling song that towers over the length of the disc that precedes it. Snaith’s clever tricks are often of the simplest sort, but do their work with needlepoint precision. “She’s The One” changes its emotive trajectory with a simple minor chord shift in the verses that adds that much more of a punch. Amidst the deluge of layered sound, one can discern endless doot-doos and cascading guitar hiccups. It all adds up to a gorgeous whole.
Andorra is a model for a solo effort done correctly. From the elastic synth and boomerang effects of “After Hours,” to the chanting séance of “Desiree,” Snaith is able to both harness the breadth of his vision and focus his creative drive to create an album that is simultaneously distant and direct. This is music for stoned inertia and open-minded thought, for pondering string theory or the metaphysics of carpets. After witnessing the dizzying talent displayed on Andorra and its predecessor, The Milk of Human Kindness, we’re all begging the gods to keep Caribou’s trajectory of success alive well into the future.