A few years ago, mathematician Dan Snaith was cruising along, writing songs and recording under the name Manitoba. He got struck with a lawsuit from "Handsome" Dick Manitoba, lead singer for the '70s band The Dictators, who informed Snaith he would either have to relinquish the name Manitoba or suffer a bout with the legal system. Rather than endure expensive litigation, Snaith (like any logical mathematician) severed himself from the Manitoba moniker. Nowadays the music is much more focused and the name is Caribou, a pseudonym Snaith came up with while tweaked out on LSD during an outdoor trek through the Canadian outback. So how did it happen? Was he just in need of a chemical perspective to turn the corner on his ideas? Or did he see the reindeer parade between the sheets of snow and sunlight and decide that he wanted to make his music just as organic?
Andorra's seething opener track, "Melody Day," rushes in what seems like thirty different real and electronic instruments, all bent on laying down the ornate symphonic manifest of the album. It's an infectious start, but the rest of Andorra never quite follows up on that sonic enormity. What does reveal itself though, is an ambitious album of honeyed '60s psychedelic collages that go from astral pop confections to more ambient spaced-out meditations. "After Hours" is one of the best tracks that effortlessly navigates between the two, as the verses are all shimmering Beach Boys falsettos brimming along the surface, swelling towards a chorus of vibrating drums, echo reverberations and flutey keyboard warbles. You can almost see the Boredoms jumping at the chance to add their massive percussion machine to Snaith's electronic structures. Add in a few seconds of downtime in the middle section before it snaps back into place again and you've got the standout track of Andorra.
Thing is, the rest of the album doesn't fare as well in its focus. If there's anything at fault with Andorra, it's Snaith's insistence on creating textures by spreading layer upon layer and building upwards, rather than letting a riff or two unfold within its own momentum and move towards a melody's core. In its mystery it feels more like a multiplying rabbit than a Russian doll. Which is not to say there's no delight in density; there are moments on Andorra that absolutely simmer-"Sundialing" sounds like an illuminated call-and-response counterpoint to Neu!'s "Hallogallo". But for the most part, the velocity arc of a song is lost to Snaith's interest in inviting yet another sound patch into the mix. Tracks like "She's The One" and "Eli" stick to a more straightforward pop structure, stomping along as the album's afternoon delights, but they seem misplaced among the other pieces.
And just as soon as you're set on Andorra being a lean Brian Wilson/Kinks polyphony, Snaith bags it all up with two closing tracks that sound more born out of the buzzy kaleidoscopic phonics of krautrock than California psych-pop. Reading as the album's denouement, "Irene" is all movie-script ending, sparse in its tempo and bittersweet in its melody. The last minute even invites the hissing of TV static to diffuse through the mix, and it sounds as if the mystery is all wrapped up. But if "Irene" is the resolution, then "Niobe" is surely the coda. Snaith decides to bring it all back again, this time with a subdued trance beat buried over loops of piano chirps and electronic twitters. If there's any track on Andorra that got its ideas hatched in Snaith's chemically soaked head while he was on his mountain retreat years ago, this is probably the one. It peeks and then ducks just as quickly; it does this pretty much over and over for the entirety of its (almost) nine minutes. After being out in the mountains for days, it might have been the time-lapse effect of the sun rising and setting that affected Snaith most on his outdoor epiphany. Better yet, maybe it was the constant coming in and out of opacity and lucidity.
The assuredness of Andorra lies in Snaith's ability to hone the language of its musical references-never does the album have a moment without an era to summon. At face value, Andorra is a lush and exquisite example of Snaith's abilities as a producer and engineer. He's carved out his own pocket of retrofit electronica, armed with laptops and a catalog of '60s pysch-pop mannerisms at his side. Then again, the most interesting moments of that genre were never the moving parts. Snaith has the aural casing down, but it's at a point now where Caribou needs a little more content to go with that context. But hey, summertime is never about content anyway.