Last spring, amid an endless string of lockdowns and widespread misery, Dan Sneath lay with a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
“As a former math person (Sneath has a PhD in math), from the start I thought: the only thing that’s going to get us out of this is science,” he told Starr. “And suddenly there’s this amazing achievement of turning around a bunch of super highly effective vaccines in less than a year. It’s just crazy, and so inspiring to me.”
Hiding in his basement studio, Sneath – better known by the moniker Caribou – began writing new music, which he says was “really starting to stand out from the crowd of vaccines.”
“Every day, it was like: ‘My sister got vaccinated! My parents got vaccinated! Someone else got vaccinated! … He’s coming!'”
The first taste of that inspiration is “You Can Do It,” an almost absurdly upbeat caribou track that came summer, just as some parts of the world began to emerge from the silliness of the disastrous third wave. Built around a rapidly sequenced vocal sample, a simple chord progression and a house beat, the track’s second half blossoms into a thrilling crescent of unblemished optimism.
The accompanying music video is inspired by the 1986 Disney film “Navigator’s Flight,” features dozens of furry dogs chasing Frisbee in slow motion, a scene that manages to amplify the song’s dizzying boom.
Sneath decided to release “You Can Do It” as a stand-alone single, something he has rarely done in the past. “I thought, This This is when it will resonate with people. There’s nothing wrong with being brazenly positive and upbeat about this moment.”
Over the course of two decades, a native of Dundas, Ontario, Sneath has produced a vast catalog of music that spans and blends many genres and styles together.
His early work, originally released under the name Manitoba In the early 2000s, sophisticated, downtempo took the form of electronica – a style pioneered by artists such as Effex Twin and Board of Canada and sometimes referred to as “intelligent dance music”, or IDM. Manitoba’s debut album, “Start Breaking My Heart”, which Sneath recorded as a student at the University of Toronto, received widespread critical acclaim. (In 2017, Pitchfork renamed it One of the Top 50 IDM Albums of All Time,
In 2003, Sneath moved to the UK to pursue a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College, London (his thesis was titled “overconvergent seagull modular symbol, A renewed interest in ditching the crates for ’60s rock records and drum breaks prompted them to incorporate vocals and live instrumentation into their music, culminating in the spectacular neo-Pichedalia of Caribou’s Polaris Award-winning 2008 album. happened in.Andorra,
Throughout the 2010s, Sneath’s music continued to evolve, incorporating elements of deep house, R&B, pop, and hip-hop into 2010’s “Swim” and 2014’s “Our Love”, which was voted Best Dance/Electronic Album. Was nominated for a Grammy for. Over the past decade, they have also released three studio albums of ancient, club-ready dance music under the aka DJ. daphney,
What seems to unite this vast body of music is that Sneath’s steady sense of optimism is always present, whether expressed in the form of joyous catharsis or subtle hope.
“I am what I am,” Sneath told Zoom ahead of Caribou’s long-delayed North American tour, which arrives this week for three shows at Danforth Music Hall in Toronto.
“I’m someone who tries to put a positive spin on things, and deal with difficult things by building something positive.”
In fact, hope pervades Caribou’s most recent LP, “Suddenly,” which came out in late February of 2020. The album is Sneath’s most personal project yet, featuring songs about yearning, loss and grief, each wrapped in brightly colored melodies and expertly-crafted dance grooves. Feather “you and me, “He sings about a death in his family. On”House,” he tells the story of a friend who found the courage to leave a toxic relationship.
“I mean, it’s in the title,” Sneath said. “It’s about sudden, unexpected changes in your life and learning to adapt to them.”
And while Sneath made less use of his voice in previous albums, it is often “suddenly” pushed to the fore.
In the five star review of the album Guardian, Critic Alexis Petridis described Sneath’s voice As “delicate, uneducated and showy, in stark contrast to the melodramatic firework displays that are usually held up to constitute Good Singing in 2020 – but it is remarkably impressive.”
“You don’t realize your ears have become accustomed to auto-tune perfection until you hear someone who actually sounds like a human being programmed to perform vocal calisthenics instead of a cyborg. Done: It hits you emotionally in a way that melismatic feats of strength and endurance just don’t.”
A few days after the album was released, a pandemic was declared. In the chaotic and terrifying weeks that followed, Sneath felt that no one would really “suddenly” listen. Instead, the pandemic created unique conditions for his fans to engage with the music in a deeper, more meaningful way.
“All of a sudden everyone was in that position trying to figure out how to make something creative or at least deal with that kind of devastating sudden change,” he said. “I had a great response. People were messaging me directly, ‘I’ve been locked around and listening. This music has really helped me,’ which isn’t at all what I want. Was expected.
“It felt like the music had a real purpose.”
Sitting in his small basement studio at his home in London, nearly 20 months later, Sneath seems excited to finally hit the road with his band (Caribou has performed live with the same band since he formed in 2003. Was). He performed a handful of shows and festivals over the summer, which Sneath described as “magical”.
“Everyone in the crowd just had a big smile on their faces.”
Sneth says the past few years have been challenging, full of ups and downs. With his wife and two young daughters, he found home-schooling to be a difficult, but ultimately rewarding experience: “I would have been away for those years of my children’s lives,” he said.
But Sneath also had to look after his father, who was terminally ill – a situation compounded by the precariousness of the pandemic.
“Every time decisions were made about whether he should go to the hospital and get some tests done or whether I can visit him – all those things were made difficult by the situation. I had to learn to adjust … I’m sure everyone has their own version of that story. But yeah, it feels like an eternity.”
Despite not releasing much original music, Sneath remained busy with other projects. Last winter, he released “Sudden Remix,” a collection of reimagined caribou tracks, some recorded by his friends – Four Tet, Floating Points, Morgan Geist – and some recorded by the artists who excited him in the early stages of the pandemic – the Logic 1000, India Jordan, Prince Nifty.
In the fall, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Sneath re-released a trio of early albums: “Start Breaking My Heart,” 2003’s “Up in Flames” and 2005’s “The Milk of Human Kindness.” “
Listening to his old records now, one can’t help but marvel at how much Sneath’s voice has developed. And yet, remarkably, regardless of genre, each song has their unique signature: intricate drum patterns, Sneath’s delicately expressed falsetto, and the way the sounds are carefully layered and are stacked on top of each other, as the Jenga tower threatens to collapse.
“I think it just emerges through the process of doing, you know? I’ve spent endless, endless, endless hours of my life making music and it just emerges in a way—a sense of melody or a sense of harmony. Emotion or sense of rhythm,” he explains.
“On some level, I’m always trying to change. And then on another level, the thing I’ve come to realize is that I can’t change even if I want to, and that’s what makes my music unique.” Most likely.”
It’s been two years since Sneath set foot on Canadian soil. And although he is surrounded by his immediate family in the UK, he has many close friends here. “Canada is still home in some kind of deep, inner sense,” he says. “Landscapes and people and everything.”
As for Toronto, it’s the only place he gets nervous before a show, “that tells you a lot.”
Asked what to expect from fans visiting Danforth this week, Sneath says the bulk of the show is “just one big dance party.”
“People just don’t want to go out and watch introspective music… People want to come and have a good time. I want people to have a good time.”
“That’s our job.”