Up in Flames

Manitoba - Up in Flames

Manitoba/Caribou - Up in Flames

Dan Snaith’s first album, Start Breaking My Heart (2000), is usually categorized as folktronica or intelligent dance music (IDM), in the vein of Boards of Canada and Four Tet. Samples are precisely calibrated and meticulously arranged in exact sequences. It is an appropriate sound given Snaith’s academic background: a B.Sc. from Toronto and a Ph.D. from Imperial College, both in mathematics; his father and sister are also mathematicians. In contrast, his sophomore album, Up in Flames (2003), is a messy, vibrant, wall-of-sound that wears its bliss on its sleeve and smacks of instant gratification. It is shocking to discover that both albums were similarly composed on a computer; Snaith cooks up a delightful smorgasbord of echoing vocals, punishing drums, animal sounds, organ blasts, and strummed guitar. Serving suggestion: enjoy with headphones on a sunny, carefree day.

The jumble of samples and vocals (including a cough) in the opening section of “I’ve Lived on a Dirt Road All My Life” is swept aside by enthusiastic drums and brass; imagine the aural equivalent of having all your friends show up at once in a noisy clatter. “Skunks” is anchored by a keyboard motif, and builds towards a saxophone solo and huge thumps of bass.

Hendrix with KO” and “Jacknuggeted” find Snaith collaborating with fellow Canadian electronic musician Koushik Ghosh, whose touch shines through in sunny woodwinds, handclaps, and vocal nonsense. With lyrics and some semblance of structure, these two tracks are the strongest singles on the album. “Hendrix with KO” relies on a steady drumbeat, and “Jacknuggeted” anchors itself around an acoustic guitar and a single chord on the organ that precedes the chorus. Both songs dissolve into codas featuring electronic blips that bear the fingerprints of Snaith’s previous musical efforts.

After the fuzzy, palate-cleansing “Why the Long Face”, a twinkling glockenspiel at the start of “Bijoux” hints at musical wordplay. These gems shatter moments later, sending a kaleidoscope of sounds through the air. “Twins” begins with electric guitar, a descending bass line, and a perfect fifth before the percussion takes over. I miss hearing this song live – the ferocious sound from the two drum kits that were standard in Snaith’s tour lineup never failed to impress the crowd. “Kid, You’ll Move Mountains” takes it down a blissful notch, with recorder and vocals floating above layers of glock, knob noise, and insistent drums. The ear-worm melody on glockenspiel in “Crayon” never fails to uplift; the barking dogs and breaking dishes are an added bonus. “Every Time She Turns Around It’s Her Birthday“, one-fifth of the album’s length, is a microcosm of the album itself: a swirling, breathing mass of electronics, drums, and vocals, and it closes with a chant that I imagine is produced by girls skipping rope.

One could criticize the album as formulaic: a disparate collection of sounds contracting and swelling for forty minutes; however, it is executed with such genuine, organic enthusiasm that it is hard to fault the final product.

NB: The music videos, directed by Irish animation collective Delicious9, are brilliant visual accompaniments.

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