In writing up Caribou’s 2010 single, Pitchfork referenced the song’s “chilly-and-warm aesthetic” and today, as the sun beats down on north Philadelphia and the mercury drops below 32 (or zero if you’re more metrically oriented), it seems the perfect blend to welcome in the morning. Although snow was threatened over the weekend, what remains this morning is only a hint of its bitter embrace, numbed by the warmth of a clear day. Just what the popular allure of ‘Odessa’ is, (off Canadian Dan Snaith’s third long-player since 2001 – he’s also recorded under Daphni and Manitoba until he was sued over his use of the latter), is harder to pinpoint. The market for slightly depressing tracks with vaguely narrative lyricism, washed out vocals and moody waves of bass, cymbal splashes and other-worldly vocal flourishes, however, must be bigger than it seems.
As far as moods go, ‘Odessa’ is equally amorphous. A roommate who heard Four Tet blaring from my room yesterday afternoon might well call it emo but there is some sense of hope, possibly perpetuated by the upswinging intonation of those echoing, primitive yells, that makes ‘Odessa’ a more complex beast than you’d assume on first listen. Initially, it sounds difficult, twisted, thick and layered but it is only with repeat listens that you start to get at the real core of Snaith’s composition. Having graduated from Imperial College London with a PhD in mathematics in 2005, Snaith obviously has a talent for intricacies – in numbers as in music. But overthinking things is the perennial curse of intelligent approaches to life. The beauty of ‘Odessa’ is that it unfurls on you gradually, butterflying out into a rich tune, but at the same time, doesn’t sounds like an ugly cocooned slug to start with. Whether you get the profundity of Snaith’s deal on the first listen or not, there is something to take away from ‘Odessa’ regardless.
Wrapped around the chilling refrain of the chorus (hinting at animal sounds, working on my thesis here), it is ‘Odessa’s’ loosening up around the 3′ mark with the introduction of what sounds like panpipes that really makes it a song worth listening to. Often, I find myself tempted to move on in my shuffle when ‘Odessa’ appears, turned off by the thought of Snaith’s somewhat mopey vocals, but inevitably, holding out to the very end makes the introduction and first couple of verses worth it and valuable in context. In letting it rip with percussion, more of them spooky noises and bass for this brief breakdown, Snaith embraces the sort of experimentalism that is usually anathema to popular (even undergrond popular) success. The breakdown has long been a vital facet of hip-hop and, increasingly (especially when it comes to LCD Soundystem) of electronic music, but the risk of losing your listener, particularly when the break doesn’t build to anything but reverts back to vocal loops to round out the song, is a constant threat. In easing up, letting his track breathe and engaging in some near-tribal free expression, Snaith welcomes some warmth to an otherwise bleak track. A triumph of contrasts.
Caribou – Odessa