Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Caribou -- The Milk of Human Kindness
Domino; 2005

In 2003, Dan Snaith was forced to change his musical moniker, Manitoba, when he was sued by the lead singer of the group The Dictators, "Handsome" Dick Manitoba. Apparently "Handsome" had recorded an album under the name Manitoba's Wild Kingdom 15 years ago and was worried there would be confusion. Inventive creature that he is, Snaith again looked to his native Canada for nominal inspiration. Settling on Caribou, he proceeded to make The Milk of Human Kindness, a wild album to match his new name.

Where previous albums Stop Breaking My Heart and Up In Flames were dance-worthy sampledelica, The Milk... is a bit more furry. Imagine if you plunged the Postal Service into the wilderness with only a hunting knife and made them sing about their lives. Not logging chants, no, but visceral pop tunes with rough edges. The record feels much more organic in nature than Manitoba releases, even when it's being digitally manipulated to high heaven. The album opens with trance-inducing rhythm of "Yeti," which finds Snaith dancing around a glowing campfire. Three tracks later, "Lord Leopard" drops a harpsichord breakdance beat. The Milk... later closes with the thrumming pulse of the kraut rock borrowing "Barnowl." It's certainly a diverse pack this Caribou runs with.

As before, one of Snaith's greatest talents is still his ability to translate moods through his compositions; The Milk... is likewise diverse in tone. Perhaps the most evocative is "Brahminy Kite," which evokes a near-pop panic attack with its persistent, propulsive and Silver Apples-biting drumbeat. Woozy guitar strums in "Subotnick" (which name-checks early electronic musician, Morton Subotnick) convey a gentle if murky comedown. The chopped-up chime-beat of "Pelican Narrows" lay out a trail of footprints belonging to a lost and tearful child, narrated perfectly by the tune's surrounding melody.

The Milk... finds Manitoba's electronic and I.D.M . roots intact in Caribou, even if they've grown into more of a "traditional band" style. "A Final Warning," "Bees," "Hammerhead Hands" and "Drumheller" are structured more like rock and roll songs, each warped to a different degree by swells of samples and computer-freakery. "Hammerhead Hands" is left to its Beach Boys-like devices, whereas "A Final Warning" gets frantically rubbed down with electrons. The distortion can be minorly abrasive to the virgin ear, but repeated listens bring out the beauty in the jagged textures. I'd estimate that fans of Manitoba's glitchy electronic side will still be pleased; both because it makes an appearance and because the rest of the tracks are so mind-numbingly good.

It seems that Dan Snaith thought of his loss of the Manitoba title as a challenge. How exactly would he evolve his sound to match sonic "nom de plume?" The answer is clear in The Milk of Human Kindness's depth of mood and melody, and its carefully crafted organ-tronic aesthetic. It's an album that peaks more into Snaith's creative mind, and at the same time reveals his hand. There's more to Caribou than he let on as Manitoba, and The Milk... is his chance catch listeners by surprise.

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