Our love, our music

For anyone with more than a casual acquaintance with Aphex Twin‘s 1990s output, the first hearing of “minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)” is a sobering experience. There’s the healthy dose of weirdness—disembodied voices, a constantly shifting structure, wonky tunings and a random diversion into jungle—that denotes this is the work of Richard D. James. But there’s also a classical sense of proportion and beauty—think of those celestial synths, the timely intervention of piano—that feels unexpected, and unexpectedly comforting.

The album that opens with “minipops” is Syro, and it is, barring a few exceptions, techno from the far side of the universe brought down to the level of two-point-four-children families. There are playful motifs, like the frenetic yet tasteful buzzing lead in “syro u473t8+e [141.98] (piezoluminescence mix)”, and the Christmas synths (straight outta “Wonderful Christmastime”) on the track that follows it, “PAPAT4 [155] (pineal mix)”. There is lifestyle music, as what might be played in cocktail bars in Star Wars (see “produk 29 [101]”, which sounds a bit like Tortoise at their most lithe). There is the overriding whiff that James, the auteur and hellraiser, is having too much good clean fun. He is deploying the full extent of his production nous, but only in the service of light entertainment. It’s a bit like CBS’s 60 Minutes, with a bit more modular synth.

One of the first artists I thought of when listening to Syro was Caribou—or rather, Dan Snaith’s dance-focused alter ego, Daphni. Under this guise, Snaith put together the collection Jiaolong, on which he brought wonky, gurning techno firmly into the daylight. No longer things to be feared, the styles of music explored on this not-an-album resemble children in a sweetshop, giddy and drunk.

Finding his way back to his day-job, Snaith as Caribou has now released Our Love. On the album, he takes reassuring components of pop and dance music and softly warps them into something more troubled and stern. It’s the opposite approach to that of Aphex Twin.

Beats are the most notable area where Snaith updates the familiar tropes of our youth for a grown-up age. On “All I Ever Need”, an elastic R&B beat (played against oceanic pulses of bass and The Chronic 2001 sonar pings) recalls mid-1990s Timbaland productions. But the lyrics, with its repeated lament of “I can’t take it / The way you treat me wrong”, as sung by the weary Snaith, take this several pegs above even Aaliyah. In the album’s back half, “Julia Brightly” adopts a garage-y backbone, and then collides it with snatches of what sounds like a gospel preacher, and those ever-present wavering keys, like hovercrafts drifting in and out of view.

Throughout, Snaith toys with our memories, and winds up crafting something even more universal than our shared past. The title track is the most obvious emissary of this approach: a sparse holding-pattern intro gives way to a downright filthy interpolation of Inner City’s “Good Life”; finally, the party gives way to the post-club self-actualization, with those unforgettable throbbing chords still burning like lasers in your ears.

On the album’s opener, “Can’t Do Without You”, a low-key devotional is suddenly invaded by vast raver synths two-thirds through. This music belongs to all of us. Another highlight, “Back Home”, dispenses with any common elements: Snaith’s vocals, unusually clear in the mix, start off atop a slinky, smudged arrangement, then cede to a symphonic explosion of saturation and gain and gamma rays. It’s unlike anything else on Our Love, but it feels utterly part of the collective consciousness.

Along the way, the songs that are just downright weird, like the loping, detuned “Silver”, and the featherlight, beatless “Second Chance”, have their moments in the spotlight. But star billing goes to the compositions and the fitment that most resemble the home in our mind’s eye, with all its complexities. In its attention to detail and nuanced emotions, referential winks and downright slickness, Our Love is the musical equivalent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception—a triumph.

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