Smile Politely

White Light, White North: A Caribou Review

Illini Union Courtyard Café, 4/10/08

William: The venue’s website said the show would start at 8 p.m. The DJ on WPGU said 7:30. The poster said 9:00. The guy at the Illini Union Box Office said “Caribou…That’s a band, right?”

The opening act, Fuck Buttons, was for some reason not mentioned on the radio or in the university’s official promotional material.

So we arrived late. And as a result missed the best part of Fuck Buttons’ set, catching just the tail end. We heard only two songs we missed the names of, and so refer to them as”The Washing Machine Song” and “The Lawnmower Song.” A few adventurous fans were nodding along to the very loud grinding beat, though most stood around the stage like witnesses at a car crash, staring petrified into the distortion. I sensed a Velvet Underground influence, or at least Metal Machine Music.

Well, we had been warned by a local music scene insider that at the Courtyard Café, the promotion and sound system are sometimes handled by students. Not that U of I undergraduates are incompetent, mind you — they just study awful hard.

Cristy: Thanks to its heavy rotation on WPGU, “Melody Day” (a faithful homage to 1960s-inspired baroque psychedelia) sends me back to the gloomy winter of 2007. A sparkly highlight of an otherwise depressing season, the song inspired me to sit anxiously next to the radio for hours, waiting for my “Melody Day” fix. I longed to inject its 4 minutes of opiate-like pop bliss into my cold veins.

W: The five-member band comprised a drummer (Ahmed Gallab, stading in for Brad Weber, who fractured his wrist); a bassist/vocalist (Andy Lloyd); a guitarist/keyboardist (Ryan Smith); a laptop; and Caribou (Dan Snaith, Ph.D.) on vocals, keyboard, guitar, second drum kit, flutophone, and some instrument I couldn’t see that sounded like glockenspiel. They sculpted polished icecaps of cool pop. I’ve heard it said that rock is music based less on melody and harmony and more on rhythm and timbre. If this is the case, then, by seldom sounding like a rock band, Caribou put on a great rock show. Despite conscious efforts to use feedback, the guitars usually sounded like mellotrons or synthesizers. Sometimes the vocals were processed enough to sound like Laurie Anderson or Donald Duck. Despite the alien beauty of these sounds, two drummers ensured a driving delivery.

C: Caribou possesses a clear, smooth vocal style, similar to that of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service, don’t you think?

W: Captain Beefheart he ain’t. The first time I heard him on the radio, I thought he was a female singer. Though at this show it was hard to judge the singing and songwriting with the vocals so inadequately mixed.

C: Behind the band, trippy digital colors and shapes morphed across a large screen. Like Pink Floyd circa 1967, but with computers instead of colored oil — and without the LSD.

W: Not this reporter, anyway, but we can’t be sure about the band. The name Caribou was LSD-inspired, according to rock legend (or at least Wikipedia).

C: I got my pop fix when Caribou began “Melody Day.” Although the other instruments struggled to be heard over the pounding drums, I chalked it up to unavoidable acoustic issues. “Melody Day” is a solid gem that could sound catchy in any venue.

W: The songs were pleasant, unfolding with reassuring consistency. There were few arresting surprises, or inexplicable changes. No soloing that I could see.

C: Is it just me, or is rock unbearably repetitive these days? A lot of new songs seem to go on forever, with no variation in rhythm or dynamics. Caribou can be repetitive, but they have a solid talent for catchy hooks that occasionally peek through layers and layers of keyboard and guitar. The melodies are like buried treasure: You have to dig around to find it —and your search might take awhile — but then your shovel clangs against something hard and shiny. The rewards are worth it.

W: Within the parameters of trancelike rhythms and arrested harmonic development, Caribou’s band created a variety of intriguing moods, all performed with sober professionalism.

C: I can’t wait to get home and put on the vinyl.

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