Caribou creates a whole new language for dance music on Swim, communicating the ecstasy of losing yourself on the dancefloor, the chill of an afterparty, and the despondency of coming down alone at home the next day.

Ten years into his music career (first under the moniker Manitoba and then as Caribou), Dan Snaith had snagged himself the third ever Polaris Music Prize and a reputation for reinterpreting his music with each successive release. The definite throughline between 2007’s lauded Andorra and its predecessors (2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness, 2003’s Up in Flames, and 2001’s Start Breaking my Heart) was a homespun folktronica aesthetic blending beats and blips with pop and psychedelia, each album fiddling with the formula while sticking close to the same palate of flavours.

It was little wonder, then, that 2010’s Swim sounded like Dan Snaith’s second coming. At a time when we’re all talking about curves and how flat or peaked they are, it’s easy to look at Snaith’s Manitoba/Caribou oeuvre and see how smooth and fluid his musical progression has been. At the time of its release, though, Swim felt like Snaith was plunging into new and uncharted musical waters. Admittedly, that was mostly his own doing. In the lead up to its drop (because that’s the way we talked about records in 2010), Snaith repeatedly said his intent with Swim was to make “dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water”. 

Album opener and early single “Odessa” gave us a taste of what that actually meant. Iridescent and eerily hypnotic, the track shuffles and bounces on a thoroughly groovy bassline buoyed by classic acid house flourishes. Floating just below its surface, though, are lyrics about a drowning relationship that help to establish a bleaker — dare I say darker? — tone than on any previous Snaith-helmed record to date. It’s there on “Kaili” as well, a song about a couple growing old in a relationship that grew cold many moons ago. In fact, pick any song on Swim with lyrics and you’ll find characters in various stages of loneliness and loss.

And yet, for all its undercurrents of ennui, dissatisfaction, and disenchantment, Swim is completely what Snaith set out to make: a record of intricate, immersive dance music intimately tied to the ebb and flow of human emotion. On paper, the idea behind “Bowls” sounds like it could be as trite a novelty hit as pairing Gregorian chant with EDM, but in Snaith’s hands, chiming Tibetan bowls and dancefloor-filling rhythms is an ecstatic, fully immersive highlight. So too is the stark, portentous barnburner “Leave House”. It is the synthesis of all of Swim’s disparate elements: compelling rhythms, emotionally charged lyrics, and idiosyncratic instrumentation. Though he flirts with the same hybrid IDM/pop/rock aesthetic as contemporaries like LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Snaith creates a whole new language for dance music on Swim. It communicates the ecstasy and energy of losing yourself on the dancefloor of a packed club, the chill atmosphere of an afterparty afraid to let the vibes end, and the despondency of coming down alone at home the next day when reality sets in. 

Swim in general and “Leave House” in particular leave little question that Dan Snaith’s dance music instincts were already highly evolved in 2010 and would become supernatural by the time he dove headfirst into dance as Daphni two years later. Whether made from water, wood, or wire coat hangers and duct tape, Swim represents the riptide moment that catapulted Caribou into its second act.

Dan Edmonds