Music Reviews

Caribou Suddenly

(Merge) Rating - 8/10

Dan Snaith has finally settled into a sound that suits him best. The Canadian musician explored many genre-bending concepts during the first decade of his career, taking on a variety of guitar-based tropes under a gauzy, electronic filter. But make no mistake—Snaith has always been a "producer" in the strictest sense. Up to 2010's dance-oriented Swim, every Caribou release cruises in that middle lane between retro-leaning classic rock and proactive ambient music. Before that, though, he fit the Warp artist profile through and through with 2001's Start Breaking My Heart, layering and constructing skittering beats without following a song-oriented format. Which is to say that Snaith's full-on embrace of left-center club and techno music in the last decade shouldn't come as a surprise—it's expected.

Snaith's gradual evolution is more than evident in Suddenly, a reflective and also outgoing mood piece that shares insight into what he's learned in the six years he's been away since 2014's Our Love. He opens the album on a sparse, downbeat note, giving us a fair warning ahead of the getaway jams he has in store. "Sister, I promise you I'm changing/ You've heard broken promises, I know," Snaith sings in his low pitch, presaging the album's many turmoils. He doesn't rush things, either. Instead, he drops an arsenal of twinkling effects and vaporous synths over pitch-shifted samples on You and I. Musically, it's a lot to take in within the constraints of a four-minute banger. He shows signs of defeatism in his words ("Now you're gone/And I'm left here waiting"), and that's just the warm-up before getting into more openly emotional territory.

By all accounts, Suddenly doesn't sugarcoat the many facets of love and loss. It leads us to believe that Snaith is going through a rough patch, but as he explained in the leadoff to the album, he's happily married and with kids. So instead of speaking from his own experiences, Snaith is something of a mediator, trying to understand why the friends and relatives who are close to him are going through some difficult interpersonal relationships. The track that follows, Sunny's Time, is a throwback to his IDM phase, throwing in a potpourri of classical piano samples and chopped-up rap vocals over his bittersweet recollections: "It all found me since I've been gone/ I'll be back when this is all done."

Backed by a creamy, resplendent production, Snaith begins to engage with livelier—and stranger—rhythms, as demonstrated in twosome New Jade and Home. He contemplates the aftermath of divorce over a lithe pop-meets-psych groove on the former, while on the latter, he expertly slithers his quiet croon against soul singer Gloria Barnes' memorable refrain. The closest here to a house track is Never Come Back, which again, alludes to a romantic dissolution in the simplest of terms. It's not substantial by any means (though you can make an argument that half of these tracks on here only tackle surface-level thoughts about serious matters), but it's effective in how its simple, infectious beat wants to make you dance.

Outside of the throbbing Ravi, the concluding tracks in Suddenly temper the mood again—like in Cloud Song, where Snaith writes one last heartbreaking plea over a spacey, proto-ambient composition as he repeats: "Please come back." Even at his startlingly direct, he communicates more than any words can say: the vast terrain of human responses can go from sadness and anger to euphoria, all in one instant. Suddenly isn't his strongest work—and at times it indirectly anthologies his entire oeuvre—but it does solidify his place as a thinking person's electronic artist who injects meaning and empathy into his music above all else.

"It's been five years since you've been gone," he sings on Magpie, a line that has a double meaning. But if we were to contextualize how Snaith stands today, then yes, it's been a while since he's checked back in. He's in a good place now, true, but he's also not infallible, fully aware that the unfortunate circumstances that surround him may come his way one day, too. It's a sentiment that perfectly summarizes the album overall: It could all change suddenly, in one instant. And it's something that Snaith never takes for granted, helping to mend the pain of those he cares about through his generous musical offering.