Ontario native Dan Snaith has spent the past decade transitioning from the ragged plunderphonic-based krautrock psychedelia that defined his earlier releases, to sleek house-infused indietronic dance-pop with Swim (2010) and the mellower, bittersweet purple tones of Our Love (2014). The latter was something of a breakup album, and new effort Suddenly flows from and expands on those themes – in title and content, it concerns sudden life changes, specifically within a family, with several songs clearly alluding to someone being “gone”.
Instrumentally, Suddenly isn’t a huge departure from the previous effort, but does display a slightly more haphazard, sometimes even a little volatile, less uniform outward appearance, as a reflection of those themes of sudden change. Caribou goes further into the deep house influences of Our Love, though often with more stripped down arrangements (“Never Come Back”, “Ravi”) and sometimes more driving than the lavish tropical tones of that album, with intense, chopped sampled vocals (“Sunny’s Time”, “New Jade”). One aspect that remains is his honeyed falsetto vocals, though as usual, he mainly uses them in more of a supporting capacity.
Following the plaintive, muted opener “Sister”, “You and I” kicks in with a driving beat and romantic, bittersweet purple neon tones, reminiscent of the twilight drive of Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush” (2013). The insistent chiming bells bring to mind his 2010 hit “Odessa”, though this time with a more distant, less urgent alarm.
True to the record’s title, “You and I” comes with a couple of sudden shifts into a half-time breakdown that’s akin to being snapped out of a daydream – with cut-up, pitch-shifted voices tripping over each other, closing out with a screaming guitar solo. All feels intentionally jarring and in your face. Though both parts work well, listeners may find themselves longing more for the yearning A-section.
“Sunny’s Time” also works on contrasts – its wandering, wilting pianos and backdrop are offset, but also pushed forward, by the driving, tense hip-hop beat and intense, constricted rap vocals. “New Jade” is similarly built around an insistent, chopped vocal loop, with perhaps the busiest drum programming on the album. It represents a new start, the looming synth pads and lively bells full of anticipation, and paired with the propulsive beat, given an exciting sense of motion.
Lead single “Home”, a feel-good track based around a vintage soul sample, has garnered comparisons to The Avalanches. While a pleasant listen, the song unfortunately comes off a little too lightweight, hitting closer to the sugary, plunderphonic pop of TV Girl. Meanwhile, “Lime” is a little like a more compact retread of “You and I” – pivoting between a bouncy acoustic guitar-driven loop with jazzy keyboard noodling and a more precarious, maximalist section, cutting off suddenly into a distant, windswept coda.
“Never Come Back”, unsurprisingly released as the third single, marks something of a shift for the album – as opposed to the more filled out, colourful tunes of the first half, this song is a relatively stripped down, house-tinged dance tune. Irresistibly catchy and addictive, it is at the same time reflective of the album cover’s blue tones, with a noticeably introspective undertone prevalent. And Caribou layers enough details such that it doesn’t run out of energy, even with its repetitive nature.
Penultimate track “Ravi” is the bright, vibrant flip side to the shyer, inward-looking “Never Come Back”, radiating a loving glow through its warm pads. Perhaps its most intriguing aspect is the oddly chopped vocals, which always appear to cut off before finishing a phrase, stuttering and looping over themselves, but hinting at something of a playful nature, a little reminiscent of Four Tet’s “Love Cry”.
With the exception of “Ravi”, the album does dip into a more cloudy, contemplative mood towards the end. “Like I Loved You” has the same post-relationship jealous regret of Our Love, though its somewhat mechanical and rudimentary instrumentation fails to inspire, Colin Fisher’s nimble and snakey guitar work is by far the song’s most impressive factor. “Magpie” is more measured and patient, impressing with its saturated, overcast keyboards – representing someone clouded with doubt, though the song’s outro hints at a more positive resolution.
The conclusive “Cloud Song” is an appropriately slow burner, finding the singer at his lowest – “broken, so tired of crying”. Ambivalent, pale blue arpeggios cloud the track, reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Worrywort” (2001), leaving us in a similar place to “Sister”, which opened the record with similarly foggy arpeggios. Pleas of “if you love me, come home” are answered by strands of weepy synths, but the song keeps us waiting til the last two minutes before truly opening up in a slow-motion kaleidoscopic wash as the singer lays it all on the line.
With Suddenly, Caribou has added yet another solid record to his catalogue. While still embracing the sleek house indietronica of his more recent work, the record shows a more volatile and unpredictable outward appearance, which carries its more personal, familial themes. Though not every time, Snaith’s creative layering and colourful arrangements continue to impress and Suddenly is ultimately a satisfying, comforting listen.
Suddenly is released Friday 28th February via City Slang.