The Milk of Human Kindness
Though I am a few courses short of a degree in philosophy and can usually wade through those murky waters with ease and occasional gleeful abandon, I'll readily admit I never fully got Plato's allegory of the cave. I remember it has something to do with shadows projected on the wall from the fire, and it has been appropriated when postulating about television and the Internet and impression and perception and reality and so forth, but to me, its seems like one of those philosophy allegories that really doesn't hold water. But otherwise Plato is right on, pushing the agenda of the Philosopher King and a cosmic vision of where we exist only in our own thoughts and can chuff off these mortal bindings like a snakeskin we've outgrown. For a man whose writing is arguably responsible for much of the western collective political and social structure, he only saw it as a stepping stone to the place where the wise and crafty could live in ivory towers and only descend to the human plane to attain accolades (notice how most of the "Dialogues" consist of Socrates talking and people telling him he's right), drink their wine and, when fancy strikes, bugger a slave boy. but when the party is over, its back to the cave for more higher thought.
Technological advances have served mostly to reinforce the structure of our caves. We can work from there, bring the shadow of the world flickering into it, have what few corporeal goods we need delivered to it with a minimum of contact and can thrive in our own self-tailored hothouses, and the laptop pop genre is the folk music of this internal generation. People taking instruments at hand, expensive software ciphering for diddly bows and cigar box guitars, and creating music from the vibrations of interior life.
One of the more jubilant and saucier acts in this sonic silo is Canadian turned Londoner Dan Snaith who gained notoriety under than name Manitoba until he was the victim of one of the lamest lawsuits ever (sued by former LA punk footnote Handsome Dick Manitoba for copyright infringement on his name. Isn't there a whole province of Canada named Manitoba? Didn't Mr. Handsome semi-swipe his name from the Beat Farmers' Country Dick Montana? Didn't he also get clocked with a microphone by Handsome Courtney Love at some point and sued her as well? Really, I'm just asking...) and changed it to the more mellifluous Caribou for his recent insular pop splash The Milk of Human Kindness.
"Yeti" gets this party started right with rolling keyboard waves, abrasive metal scrape sawtooth waves (bonus points if you know who David Van Tieghem is and recognize his influence here) with sweet soft spoken vocal lines. His lyrics seem good enough, but truthfully serve more as another piece of the exquisite musical puzzle here. "Subotnick" named for the grandfather of electronic tape music, is a short assemblage of cellos, horns, bells before the Krautrock swarm of "A Final Warning" invades. This track is further validation to me for designating the Boredom's Vision Creation Newsun as one of the most important alums of the last decade, since I hear definite traces of that techno-tribal classic running here. "Lord Leopard" is a more dance like track with its funky drummer beat and interspersed vocal shouts, but separating this from baser fare is the baroque keyboard line lacing through the piece. I think that's a key element of this album, in that it is immediately accessible and recognizable, but has its own curious menagerie of sounds making it up.
That is no better demonstrated by the funky bass line and wispy Beta Band esque vocals of "Bees," which, in a perfect world, would be garnering Mr. Snaith millions as a ubiquitous oddball hit record. Its not that its full of twists and turns or surprises, but the arrangement is so perfect on this song, its positively infectious. Another lethal track is the minor key throb of "Hello Hammerheads" with a pulse of acoustic strings and the slightest of keyboard accoutrement to give it an air of sad menace. "Brahminy Kite" explodes like the perfect beat on the drum machine was found adn let to go about its business while Snaith focused on his echoey understated singing. "Pelican Narrows" is maybe the only piece here that doesn't stand up on its own , since its soap-opera-theme piano line and twist of handclaps and effects is begging to be co-opted as a hip-hop song, but that's no insult by any measure. "Barnowl" provides one more exquisite Can-like motorik workout taking us to the end. Basically, this is just a great little album, one that shows that the light coming from the modern cave can be just as bright as the raging bonfires of the past, and yet bear a more subtle and rarefied tint of the one casting the shadows.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or