This week reviews of the Caribou reissue “Up In Flames” a stridently fierce “No Image” by Gold and Slow Season
We’re going looking at inclusions in the upcoming Leaf Label box set and this week it’s Caribou’s freshly re-released 2003 album, Up In Flames. Who the heck is Caribou? A troublingly under appreciated artist is as good a starting point as any for describing Canadian composer/musician Dan Snaith who has released records under the names, Manitoba, Caribou and Daphni. I was shocked to see this ten track record (which I will confess to being ignorant of until receiving the promo) was listed on Pitchfork’s top 200 albums of the 2000’s.
Heady praise right? One listen through, it’s obvious why.
Let’s boil the record down. What makes Up In Flames such an astounding aural journey, is the effortless manner in which Snaith bridges a variety of seemingly divergent forms. The results feel like the quintessential distillation of a more than two decades of popular and indie music. Snaith references everything from Hacienda, house pop (“I’ve Lived On A Dirt Road My Whole Life”) to freak folk/electronics (“Jacknuggeted”) to riotous fusions of world music and shoegazer (“Every Time She Turns Around It’s Her Birthday” and “Hendrix With Ko”) and he manages to make that journey feel downright cohesive. Everything under his spell simply gels.
I’ve been through Up In Flames a bunch of times and each trip leaves me pondering another corner, another vein of Snaith’s delightful imagination. As I explore his work, it’s clear that he is a generational talent, sadly obscured by clouds. This album a bona-fide, undoubted absolute classic that bridges so many forms and indulges everything that was and has been good about popular music since the fall of the damn Berlin Wall. This is so HIGHLY RECOMMENDED it’s absurd and if you only have so many shekels to lay down for a record, make it this one.
Already, I’ve been through the new GOLD album, No Image six or seven times as of this writing and I am still utterly perplexed on what the lead should be when discussing it. And I think that might be why I like it so damn much; I don’t quite know how to approach the sound.
As a whole, No Image is an overarching hard rock spectacle. It teeters, in spots, toward heavy metal, racing at a staccato series of emotional crescendos on the back of fast paced guitars and the drowsy, November dusk vocals from the apocalyptic, Milena Eva. Looked at through the lens of a heavy metal record (as some of its pedigree strongly suggests) it falls more into the progressive and artsy metal category than drone or death, although there are more than enough grinding, grimy corners for those grim imaginations to explore. While altogether urgent, No Image also exhibits a contradictory quality of feeling gradual build, a series of soft openings and patient closes. The scene isn’t struck within the song’s confines; rather, each song feels like a piece in the stream of greater narrative.
Some of the press around GOLD suggests the band’s zeitgeist is to create a unique brand of heavy music that shines light on a civilization in rapid decline. Well here-here to that. Viewing that philosophy as root to the album’s best songs like “O.D.I.R.” and the speedy fast, “Tar And Feather” adds much needed layers of haze to the few places they feel like an art installation. I don’t make this remark often, as a fan of straight forward metal: No Image could have used a gadget or two. Nothing cheap, just a production device or two to spin it off. “Old Habits” with its whirling, affected guitar almost got me there, but it didn’t go over the edge that it could have, that I really wanted it to. Still, this is a ROCK SOLID album that deserves your attention.
A little off taste for me, Slow Season’s drops a self-titled album that should be a Godsend for those classic rock-a-holics who still get hoarse arguing over which Zeppelin record is best (II closely followed by III for my money). Although I still rip through those albums from time to time, usually while reveling in a burn of newly legalized recreational green, they don’t hold any intrigue for me anymore, and the same can be said here of the raw, blues riffs, raspy woman-done-me-wrong vocals and spacious production. It’s a good album (don’t get me wrong). It exhibits solid writing and performances but I’ve been here before, so like enough already.
While it’s nice to hear someone amping up Zeppelin love (we all seem to have become droopy jawed subjects in a washed out Edvard Munch, Black Sabbath landscape) this album offers precious few surprises, aside from the number of times you’ll say, “this sounds like…” and I believe there are a number of folks out there for whom that sounds inviting in a new record. Don’t challenge me, don’t press my definitions, just fill my coffer with the familiar. If you still excite at the thought of resurrected vintage classic rock performances (released around the holidays) this is for you but for me, I’ll PASS it onto someone who does.