The last Caribou record, 2007's Andorra, felt like a culmination of sorts. Sunny 60s psychedelia had been swirling through Ontario songwriter Dan Snaith's kaleidoscopic work since the less-litigious days when he was known as Manitoba, but he'd finally harnessed the influence into song-shaped bliss bombs. So, to hear Snaith talk of his new record, Swim, as the most genuine expression of his musical aims is a bit baffling. Was he really gunning for personality-challenged dance workouts this whole time? It all seems promising enough during the terrific lead single, "Odessa." Over an elaborate card house of rhythmic tics and whinnying synth, Snaith details the ache of a disillusioned wife in subdued third person, his hushed voice seeming more melodic amid the percussive club backdrop. It's oddly matter of fact for woman-scorned disco, granting a mere dab of extra echo for a brief interlude in his heroine's interior monologue. "Who knows what she's gonna say?" repeats Snaith. Well, you would think the songwriter might. The blankness of the lyric complicates the music's hedonism, casting it all as a breaking point&emdash;a prelude to a derailed life's second half. Taken either as a narrative or a pop thrill, Swim's pleasures are never this deep again.
Dance textures have long been an interest for Caribou, persisting while dabbles in krautrock and shoegaze fizzled, but they've never sounded so dour. The majority of the tracks are subtle builds, more content to fade between accrued layers than take the listener for a ride. Some songs, like the sharp "Bowls," feature tight dynamic shifts but remain faceless. At the album's close, with Born Ruffians singer Luke Lalonde lending a little soul to the sound shrapnel of "Jamelia," the thinness of Snaith's preceding vocals is exposed. While the record's commitment to undiluted dance music is sincere, it's maybe not what Caribou does best. It's more satisfying to think of Swim as a tangent than a tour de force.