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Run like Caribou: Dan Snaith’s best dance music of 2010

by Ryan Snyder

Dan Snaith makes challenging, counterintuitive dance music (courtesy photo).

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With the release of Spoon’s Transference, She & Him’s Volume 2, the massive acclaim garnered by Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, and the breakout success of the Love Language, it was a banner year for indie rock releases from Durham’s Merge Records. Not to be overlooked, one artist in particular is riding a hot streak unlike many the label’s ever seen.

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Performing as electronic musician Caribou, Dan Snaith was the recipient of the Polaris Prize, Canada’s highest musical honor, in 2007 for his release Andorra, and was again shortlisted for his 2010 album Swim.

Snaith has artfully branded himself has somewhat of a musical enigma. Past albums have explored everything from shoegaze to krautrock to ’60s pop, and trying to peg which direction he takes next is a fool’s errand. Chances are even he doesn’t know. An obsessive composer, the insatiable intellectual curiosity that earned him a PhD in pure mathematics found him throwing away sounds by the truckload in hopes of finding the perfect pairing of rhythm and melody for Swim. Under its icy, distant veneer lies one of the most challenging dance records of the decade. But like the aimless theories he pondered for years at the Imperial College of London, it’s the beauty of the pursuit, not the realization, which drives him.

Though he’s focused on touring and not currently writing, Snaith is a voracious consumer of music, and in a roundabout way of discerning where he might go next, he’s offered his insight into his favorite dance music records of 2010.

• “James Blake’s newest single is called ‘Klavierwerke.’ My worst habit is that I always fill up every single bit of space in my music, and his music is deconstructive dance music to the point that he leaves massive amounts of empty space in his music. It’s interesting for a number of different reasons but it’s so captivating to me because it’s essentially the opposite of what I do and something I wish I could do better.

• “Charanjit Singh did something called Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, which was actually released in 1982 in very limited print. It was just re-released earlier this year and it’s the most mind-blowing piece of music I’ve heard this year for sure. It sounds like acid house music and techno, but predated both of those genres by a few years before they were even starting to happen in Detroit and Chicago.

• “Four Tet’s new album There Is Love in You is almost a twin album or a sibling of Swim because we’re really good friends made them both around the same time while we were very excited about the same contemporary dance music. We were playing each other’s tracks during our DJ sets while we were still working on them. We’d swap them back and forth for feedback, so that one really had an impact on what I was working on at the time.

• “I’m bad with names, but there’s this artist called Ikonika and I think the album she put out this year is called Contact, Love, Want, Have. It is really exciting and represents something like where a lot of young post-dubstep artists in London are starting to take their music.”

• “The last one is Motor City Drum Ensemble, who’s a great dance music producer that put out a compilation several albums called Raw Cuts. I think there are six of them, but it’s essentially just really effective house music.”

Caribou will perform at MoogFest in Asheville on Saturday and at the Cat’s Cradle on Sunday, Halloween night.

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