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April 10, 2008

Caribou brings chameleon ethos to the stage

[img id="80459" align="alignleft"] Caribou’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic indie rock is really difficult to get out of your head. Talking to Dan Snaith, the front man for the group (formerly known as Manitoba), it becomes clear that this quality is no accident. Rather than penning angsty or emotionally devastating missives like so many indie musicians out there, Snaith prefers to create full-fledged, sophisticated soundscapes. The lyrics seem secondary, and Snaith’s falsetto tenor soars over his intricate music, sprinkling it with glitter and bliss.

“The music is far more important than the lyrics to me,” Snaith explains. “The lyrics are there to mirror the emotional content of the melodies rather than serve as a starting point or the most important thing.”

Snaith’s dedication to his melodies is understandable. Although the cliché of independent musicians recording in their bedrooms is overdone, Snaith credits this process as a major contributor to his sound. He records in a cramped room that makes it difficult to accommodate all the inexpensive equipment he needs. “Working at home in this limited way forces me to figure out my own way of doing things,” he explains. “It can result in things heading off in unexpected directions.” It also makes Snaith’s albums all the more remarkable. In the dream world that Snaith creates, it’s easy to imagine the roof flying off his bedroom and yellow wildflowers springing up from the floor to embody his expansive, trippy rock.

One of the most exciting things about Caribou is that fans can’t predict what the next album will sound like. The band’s 2005 release, The Milk of Human Kindness, sounds worlds apart from 2007’s Andorra. Musical dynamism is what keeps Snaith coming back to the studio. “I always want the albums to be different,” Snaith says. “I don’t ever want to be treading over the same ground over and over again. It’s inevitable that I want to do something different each time.”

This sort of attitude requires a self-confidence that Snaith exudes. On the phone, he gives concise, coherent, relaxed answers as his friends and bandmates chat in the background. “I’m totally happy with the music I make, and people can say whatever they want,” Snaith explains. He also doesn’t mind critics trying to pigeonhole his music as psychedelic/electronica/shoegaze rock. “There are more important things to be worked up and worried about. People are always going to try to describe music....Anything can end up in there, it doesn’t have to fit into a pigeonhole.” This laissez-faire attitude is balanced with a strong work ethic and dedication to creating an intricate world of sound in each album.

Talking to Snaith, it becomes increasingly clear that he is only incidentally in the music business. His end goal is something more than a product. Snaith holds a Ph.D. in mathematics, so what keeps him making music is the enjoyment of the process. Part of this process is figuring out new ways to expand the music beyond the limits of sound. Discussing his live shows, he explains that he uses video projections and lights to accompany the music in order to emphasize what’s going on musically and to allow people to access the music and its content on multiple levels. Combining the visual and the sonic, Snaith literally creates a world that his listeners can escape to.

“I’m really looking forward to playing in Chicago,” he says enthusiastically. “I always wish I could stay longer.”

As Chicago’s temperatures stubbornly cling to their winter habits, Caribou’s two shows at the Empty Bottle promise to be a blissful escape.

Caribou takes the stage at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on April 11.