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Incoming: Caribou's math-whiz dance, Frightened Rabbit, the National and more

May 17, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Caribou---O-600t

Even the math geeks have to cut loose now and again.

Over the course of the past decade, Daniel Snaith's body of work -- first under the name Manitoba and now Caribou -- has turned an electronic eye toward pop's past. His detailed songs, sometimes spazzy and often a little dreamy, put a modern gloss on '60s psychedelics. While always candy-colored and accessibly melodic, it was geek stuff -- seemingly loaded with layers and diversions for the vinyl set. 

Now with "Swim," the mathematician-turned-musician just wants the world to dance. Released last month via Merge Records, "Swim" puts the emphasis squarely on the groove. Opener "Odessa" is a sugar-high of rhythms, with synths that mimic whistles and vintage keyboard-sounds moving in a rave-like fury. 

And then things get weird. "Kali" is hypnotic mix of manipulated and vibrating electronic noises, "Lalibela" is minimalist charm, "Sun" is bachelor-pad space jazz and "Bowls" is a heady trip around the globe, with hand claps, harp-like sounds and rural beats. If one can't quite place the instruments that comprise the beat, Snaith said that was the intention.

"Those are samples from actual Tibetan bowls, but then they were played on a keyboard," Snaith said. "The fact that I’m playing those parts affects the timing, the sound and the harmonics. There’s a lot of that on the album -- a sample of one instrument that’s played on the keyboard to give it a different character. It’s all about making a weird hybrid."

Living in London, the Canadian said "Swim" was inspired by adventurous British dance producer James Holden and features a sound he first wanted to capture on 2007 pop album "Andorra." Of course, being asked to spin records in clubs also played an impact in Snaith's dance-heavy makeover. The artist was turned on by the instant feedback of dance culture.

"You get an intuitive response and a really honest read," said Snaith, who tested the tracks that ultimately constituted "Swim" in clubs. "People didn't know it was my stuff, so a lot of what I DJ'd, even if it was just a rhythmic snipped, ended up on the album." 

It will be created live Wednesday at the El Rey. Touring with a full band, Snaith will translate the electronics to the stage with a pair of drum kits, guitar, keyboard and bass. Though "Swim" is Snaith's most overtly electronic effort, he wanted to leave room for live improvisation and is striving for a fluid, heavily connected stage setup.

"The technology in the last couple years has leapt forward," Snaith said. "Four or five years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to do all the technological things that we would have wanted to do. For example, there’s video projections that go along with the music, but they’re integrated. They’re being played live by someone on stage. Also, one step of a pedal triggers something else to happen. Or one press of a key on a keyboard can change the effect on another instrument. Everything is inter-connected." 

It sounds like the kind of complex live show that only a math-whiz could pull off. Yet Snaith, who has a PhD to his name, said the academic and artist worlds rarely meet. 

"The mathematics I was doing was so esoteric," he said. "It didn’t have any direct input on the music I was creating. Music was always intuitive and emotional. There are probably parts of both things that appeal to the same part of my personality, but I think I’d be making the exact same music if I had never done a mathematic equation."

Caribou at the El Rey, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., with Toro y Moi and Dublab DJs. Tickets are $20, not including Ticketmaster surcharges. 

Some other notable shows this week: 

The Like on Monday night at the Echo. Timing this month just isn't working in the Like's favor. Last week the act began a free residency at the Echo, night two of which is on Monday. Yet with much of the city preoccupied with the Lakers in the playoffs, the four fashionably-retro local girls keep finding themselves playing on the same night as pivotal games. Those not interested in sports can do far worse, however, as the Like's upcoming "Release Me" is a whip-smart update of '60s girl-group sounds. It's a total career makeover for the band, jettisoning the light pop-rock of its 2005 debut in favor of dancy keyboards and sharp vocals. On Monday, however, leader Elizabeth Berg will play sans guitar, having suffered a recent hand injury. Get there early for orchestral pop of Jail Weddings. The Echo, 822 W. Sunset Blvd. Free.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River Tuesday at the Henry Fonda Theater. Psychedelic pioneer Roky Erickson is riding a late-career rejuvenation. His "True Love Cast Out All Evil," recorded with Okkervil River, reflects back on an up-and-down career, one fraught with psychic demons and nightmare visions. The tone on the recent album is more contemplative, swapping acid-drenched rock for country atmospheres, but no less gripping. Note: This gig has been moved from Mayan to Hollywood, which gives fan the opportunity to sample what is arguably L.A.'s best beer bar in the Blue Palms. The Fonda, 6126 Hollywood Blvd. Tickets are $30, not including surcharges. 

The National with Ramona Falls Friday and Saturday at the Wiltern. The National's latest "High Violet" isn't so much a leap forward as it is a refinement, a continued look at all the tensions in adult relationships with shifty guitar tones to match. Sparse arrangements and brief orchestral flashes score the grown-up desperation, and the tall and deep-voiced Matthew Berninger is a thrilling presence on stage -- an imposing figure who always seems on the verge of exploding. Openers Ramona Falls will set the mood for the night, boasting expansive yet darkly shaded indie rock. The Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd. Saturday is sold out. Tickets remain, as of Monday morning, for Friday. Tickets are $22.50, not including surcharges. 

Frightened Rabbit Sunday at the Henry Fonda Theatre. Scotland's Frightened Rabbit knows how to score a breakup. The band's "The Midnight Organ Fight" in 2008 is filled with drink-filled tales of empty hook-ups, religious doubts and lonely compromises, all given anthemic, rootsy arrangements. Newer effort "The Winter of Mixed Drinks" smooths out the band's sound, but Scott Hutchison is still one of the most impassioned wailers around. The Fonda, 6126 Hollywood Blvd. Tickets are $30, not including surcharges. Tickets are $15, not including surcharges. 

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Caribou's Daniel Snaith. Credit: Nitasha Kapoor


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