Review

Odessa

First published

If all you’ve listened to from Caribou in the past few years are his lead singles, Odessa will understandably come as a bit of a shock. You’ve probably been led to expect the sweeping drum breaks, chorus-effect vocals, and chaotic climaxes of Andorra’s Melody Day or The Milk of Human KindnessYeti. What you get instead is a claustrophobic, lurching number topped with Dan Snaith’s lyrics about the breakup of a listless relationship, which echo through the track as if delivered from across a dark, empty room. It feels like all of the color has been stripped out from a typical Caribou song and the aftermath presented to us as a downloadable single, which at least explains the black-and-white cover artwork.

Such a sudden shift in sound is a bit difficult to digest. For the first couple of plays, I found Odessa annoying more than anything else. The intro has a sample that sounds like a bird being strangled with a synthesizer power cord on every beat, for crying out loud! How can anyone find that appealing? And so I ruefully got ready to put source album Swim down as the first entry on my disappointments of 2010 list.1

As irritating as I found it, though, I simply couldn’t get that avian death noise out of my head. Stuck in the middle of midterms and knowing how much of a threat all this squawking would pose to my concentration, I tried to convince myself that Odessa wasn’t as catchy as my subconscious was trying to make it by giving it another listen.

Unfortunately, five minutes later, I emerged agreeing with my subconscious. For all of the surface differences, Dan Snaith still knows how to make everything click — and this shouldn’t be surprising, considering how much of a change his trademark psychedelic sound was when he first pulled it out on Up in Flames. Okay, the crashing waterfalls of cymbals have been replaced by heavily cut-up flute samples and the metallic ringing of bells, but that noisy Caribou crescendo is still a noisy Caribou crescendo. I’ve even gotten to the point where that bird murder noise isn’t unpleasant enough to deserve such a label any more.2

It’s a good thing my exams are over. For now.

  1. The list is actually still empty; Massive Attack’s Heligoland would have gone on it, but I’d already lowered my expectations for that one well in advance. ↩︎

  2. Too bad that I can’t think of another name for it. ↩︎