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KCRW's 'Morning Becomes Eclectic': The math and the music of Caribou

October 8, 2010 |  6:06 pm

When a man wears head-to-toe pink and he has a PhD in mathematics, well, we just don’t know what gender stereotype to slap him with. That’s the appeal of Caribou’s Daniel Snaith –- he’s not a predictable band frontman. His intellectual curiosity and sense of play infects all of his work, including the excellent 2010 album “Swim,” inspired by swimming lessons his wife gave him and shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, Canada’s highest musical honor.

At Friday’s "Morning Becomes Eclectic" session at KCRW, Snaith, joined by Brad Weber on drums, Ryan Smith on guitar, keys and samples and John Schmersal on bass and vocals, illuminated some of the most sonically intricate moments on “Swim.” Part warm-up for the show Friday night at the Henry Fonda, part its own long-form, recorder-friendly jam -- particularly on the extremely catchy “Odessa” and the resplendent, refracted “Sun” –- the 45-minute session got host Jason Bentley to rethink the band a bit. “I had put you in this box as an electronica artist,” he said during the interview portion of the visit. “But seeing you here today, [there’s] a lot of live instrumentation and I feel like I was wrong in assuming.”

His point brings up another unique aspect of the band –- it’s more than Snaith and a souped-up sample machine, though he does write music, as he put it, at a very slow pace and with each decision up to him. Live, it’s a different story, open to improvisation and collaboration, good news for those who fear that the show will be laptop pyrotechnics only. Weber, who was situated in his own little practice room for the KCRW recording, was militantly responsive on drums, following each twist and turn in Caribou’s maverick and lush landscapes.

It is perhaps this yin and yang, the balance of plotted decisions and off-the-cuff playing, that informs the best of Caribou’s work. When Bentley asked Snaith about the relationship between math and music for him, he dismissed the usual ideas about the analytical or rational nature binding the two. Instead, he said, “music is an intuitive, emotional kind of thing. But the thing I always emphasize is that mathematics has those kinds of notes in it as well… at a certain point it becomes more abstract, an intuitive, genuinely intuitive kind of thing.” We don’t remember that from algebra class but we’ll take his word for it.

-- Margaret Wappler

Caribou plays Friday night with Nite Jewel and Emeralds at the Music Box @ Henry Fonda, 6126 Hollywood Blvd. (323) 464-0808. 9 p.m. $23.