Caribou: Harmony in his head

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      Caribou’s approach to music-making has become increasingly conventional, but Andorra is no less wonderful for it.

      You can trace the roots of Caribou's new album, Andorra, back to 2005, when the Ontario-born artist (formerly known as Manitoba) contributed to The Now Sound Redesigned, a collection of remixes of '60s psych-pop by mavericks the Free Design. That disc ended with Caribou's rendition of the Free Design's "Dorian Benediction", an airy ambient number the producer turned into a sprawling free-jazz freak-out. Equal parts sacrilege and homage, that remix set the template for Andorra, an album that channels not just the Free Design, but fellow '60s innovators the Zombies and the United States of America–weirdoes all, but weirdoes working within the parameters of pop music.

      Writing pop songs doesn't come naturally to Caribou (born Dan Snaith), who grew up loving progressive rock, and whose first recordings as Manitoba were freeform electronic pieces in the vein of Autechre and Aphex Twin. Since 2001's strictly laptop-made Start Breaking My Heart, each of the producer's albums has marked a step toward more conventional methods–first 2003's excellent, shoegazer-inspired Up in Flames, and then 2005's The Milk of Human Kindness, his half-successful experiment in electronic folk. Andorra is the best Caribou record to date, its strong melodies and tidy structures demonstrating his growing mastery of the four-minute format.

      "In the past, I'd be doing what most computer musicians do: writing the songs as I was recording them," says Snaith, reached on the road in Tallahassee, Florida. "This time, I changed my writing approach completely. First, I tried writing on the piano and the electric piano, but the best way to work for me ended up being with a bass guitar, humming melodies over the top. That method leaves lots of harmonic room; if you've just got the bass notes and a melody, you can kind of fill out the harmony in your head."

      Andorra is relentlessly bright, its dense thicket of vocal melodies and contrapuntal harmonics suggesting a particularly enjoyable acid trip. That effect is enhanced by the production, which renders the record's analogue atmospheres with the kind of punch we've come to expect from digital-era studios. That's a remarkable feat for any album, but especially for this one, which Snaith recorded at his apartment in London, England.

      "I never want the music to sound like it was recorded in a bedroom," says the Dundas native. "I want it to sound big, to capture this big world of sound I have in my head. The exciting thing for me is to use my limited means to get the sound I want."

      Caribou plays Richard's on Richards on Tuesday (October 30).