I saw Caribou on a sticky August night at Hamilton, Ontario’s Pier 4 Park back in 2015. It was a night that re-aligned my preconceptions of how electronic music could sound. Dan Snaith’s lush compositions took on an entirely new energy in the hands of his live band. The songs became living, breathing entities that shifted shape in response to the euphoria of the performers. It was stunning to witness.
The man most responsible for the night’s dramatic shifts in energy–besides perhaps Snaith himself–was the drummer Brad Weber, who has just released his second record under the name Pick a Piper, entitled Distance. Playing live with Caribou, Weber displays a nuanced understanding of how to add emotional ebbs and flows to EDM arrangements. This acute awareness of emotional response lies at the heart of Distance, manifesting itself in densely layered songs that favour flux over rigidity.
There is a wonderful spontaneity to how Weber utilizes rhythmic and melodic elements that prevent his progressions from becoming staid. “Still Awake” is a slow burn wherein multiple textured rhythms weave in and out of one another. “Nikko” blends arpeggiated melodies and a sporadic breakbeat replete with subtle flourishes. You can feel Weber’s active presence in these songs, exploring patterns with a deft balance of passion and precision. It all sounds human.
After the release of the first Pick a Piper LP, Weber got the hell out of dodge, travelling everywhere from the Canadian Arctic, to South America, to Bali, to northern Japan. It’s clear that these experiences had a significant effect on Weber’s songwriting. His second LP is littered with soundscapes that are at once exotic and melancholic, essentially mirroring the confounding mix of emotions that accompany extended sojourns to foreign destinations. Travel can enlighten, but it can also isolate; Distance draws from both of these sensations, ultimately finding its humanity in how they conflict with one another. Weber also combats the feeling of isolation through collaboration. “Further and Further” is one of the more linear songs instrumentally, but it features sultry leads courtesy of J-pop artist LLLL, which hang heavy in the ears like a tropic humidity. “Flood of My Eyes” is an album high point, featuring excellent vocals from New York musician Shadowbox that meld with a pulsing bassline and layered percussion.
A fair amount of Distance is indebted to Snaith’s work in Caribou, but Weber’s own inventiveness cannot be discounted. He has put together an LP that showcases a meticulous, liberated approach to arrangements and sound design. More importantly, Weber succeeds in creating a sense of tension and atmosphere in his work that never feels superfluously moody. These songs convey a genuine range of acute emotional states, avoiding the often over-polished, synthetic EDM sheen that litters the genre. Despite its title, Distance is an album that strives, above all, for intimacy.