Do you remember the first time you listened to The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds? By the time you heard Brian Wilson finish singing the line “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older” — about 10 seconds into the song — you intuitively knew that Pet Sounds as a whole would be, well, awesome. How can people infer the greatness of an entire album from just the first 10 seconds of the opening track? I don’t know, but they can. This same phenomenon occurs on Caribou’s latest record, Andorra, with its opening song, “Melody Day.” At the very beginning of this track, too, with its abrupt entrance, subdued melody, and pulsating beat, we somehow know that we are in for a 42-minute-long musical treat.
We can trust our intuition. On Andorra, Dan Snaith (Caribou is his moniker) gives us flowery and innocent melodies, reminiscent of ’60s psychedelia. The backup vocals in “She’s the One,” singing “dit-dit-dit” on loop, remind us of the charming bridge in The Beatles’ “Girl.” And when we hear the giant leaps of the vocal lines, the multi-layered falsetto parts floating in the background, the endless harmonies, and the multitude of quirky instruments, we cannot help but think of The Beach Boys.
Yet, Snaith — who, as a side note, just received a Ph.D. in math — does more than recollect and reproduce the musical glories of the 1960s. Apparent alongside this throwback sound is experimental electronica, a computerized style that Snaith had mastered earlier in his career under the now-extinct moniker Manitoba. Snaith fills this work with tape loops, drum machines, synths, and heavily warped vocal tracks, keeping the album fresh and innovative. In the last three songs, unstructured and predominantly instrumental, Snaith’s electronic past dominates. Coincidence or not, these three pieces are the least compelling.
Andorra really epitomizes everything that’s potentially wonderful about pop music. Pleasurable verses move in a dreamlike manner into eagerly awaited, celestial choruses. The song “Desiree” exemplifies this best. You will find yourself scrolling through your iPod faster than usual to get your dose of Andorra between classes. You should consider moderating your intake of these songs so you don’t exhaust too soon the pure joy you derive from hearing them. Why can’t all pop music be like this?
Kanye West, Graduation
Kanye West has plenty of good reasons to be proud of himself: He’s a Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum-selling rapper and producer. He also has his own record label and clothing line. But his life isn’t all about commercial success: He drunkenly interrupted an acceptance speech for an award he didn’t win and he jarred the mainstream political world when he claimed on national television that “George Bush does not care about black people.”
On his strong third release, Graduation, Kanye is damn vocal about his success. On “Champion,” he asks himself nicely with a Steely Dan sample: “Did you realize you were a champion in their eyes?” It’s a pretty rhetorical question in context, but Kanye answers anyway: “I think I did.”
Sure, rappers have been talking big for decades, but Kanye has plenty of other interesting things he could be saying. Instead, more boasting: “I always had a passion for flashing,” he raps crassly on “The Good Life.” On “Glory” he claims, “With my ego I could stand there in a speedo and be looked at like a fucking hero.”
On Graduation, Kanye is musically less consistent than on his previous efforts. His strongest tracks are surprisingly the ones without his trademark gospel samples. On “Stronger,” he samples electronic group Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” and on “Barry Bonds,” crunchy synthesizers and punchy string patterns. On “Homecoming,” Kanye falls short of bridging the gap between pop and hip-hop (a gap he’s crossed so well in the past): Chris Martin’s piano bounce sits squarely underneath Kanye’s downbeat-heavy drum break.
Maybe it was the expectation of Kanye’s personal (and therefore musical) development that makes Graduation a little bit disappointing. But then again, Kanye without an ego would be like Carnegie Mellon without smelly people. And sometimes, it’s better to have too much character (or odor) than none at all.