2020’s ‘Suddenly’ is the latest release by Canadian folktronica artist Dan Snaith’s under his stage name Caribou, and the album is a bright-eyed, optimistic and understated amalgamation of many of the musical styles he’s experimented with over the years.
Under the Caribou moniker, Snaith has blended sounds from folk, rock, house and hip-hop music into warbling, often hyper-colorful dance numbers.
His sophomore-junior albums Up in Flames, The Milk of Human Kindness and Andorra saw Caribou perfect its blend of rock n’ roll psychedelic-plunderphonic storytelling. But 2010’s Swim was when an android cop named DanceBot 3000 kicked down the door of Caribou’s smoke-filled jam session and ordered everyone up on their feet, and Our Love, which followed in 2014, blasted that sound into outer space.
Our Love was a fine-tuned, glamorous album full of drama, string flourishes and moments of jealousy and love. The metaphor I’ve used to describe the album is that it sounds like the soundtrack to a night at an extraterrestrial night club. It’s a pounding, dark, slurred, dizzied anthem for love in all of its self-destructive forms. It sounds just as good on the dance floor as it does in the car, or alone in your room. There’s a thick slathering of production that lends a tragic weight from the first note of Can’t Do Without You to the synth coda of Your Love Will Set You Free.
Suddenly is still proudly dance music, but it scrapes off its predecessor’s layer of drama to reveal an almost enlightened core. It’s the soundtrack to the morning after, and without the pretense of a darker story is in many ways easier to jam to. Alongside antiseptic club beats with Snaith’s playfully melancholic singing, there are a few throwbacks to his earlier folksy albums.
The instrumentation is so tight that even the busiest songs have a desiccated taste with little excess. A couple of synth chords, a piano riff, and a weird vocal segment make up the loudest and busiest moments on the record, and that makes the dance moments louder (less instruments fighting for room) than previous records that were awash in sounds.
The sounds and melodies are often pastel-simple, and the drums are accordingly basic. Some percussion on this record is so clean, on-time and feedback-free that it’s hard to differentiate what’s live and what’s synthesized.
For my taste, the cacophony and riot in Our Love and Andorra make those my favorite Caribou albums to date. But I’m so glad Snaith didn’t simply make those records again, because Suddenly’s restraint provides a great detour from that sound.
Opening track Sister is so tender, quiet and patterned that it could pass as a Sufjan Stevens track: “Sister, I promise you I’m changing,” Snaith sings in his lullaby-falsetto over humming synth chords. “You’ve heard broken promises, I know.”
Tracks You and I, Sunny’s Time, and New Jade visit tried-and-true Caribou territory, incubating an infectiously danceable beat until it’s spun itself into a heroic soundtrack to a science fiction action-romance. Snaith seems to be aware of this trope, so he subverts it on Lime, a sparkly-clean house track that suddenly careens into a slow-jazz windtunnel just as it’s blossoming.
Like the outro to Lime, there are a lot of moments on the album I can only describe as weird. Nearly every song features chopped-up, pitched-around vocal samples that tend to sound like aliens trying to approximate the English language. These little flourishes add humanity to the songs without making them feel familiar.
Sunny’s Time, for instance, has a rollicking hip-hop vocal loop that is both beautiful and completely incomprehensible. It’s Snaith using the human voice purely as an instrument, to be distorted and morphed as easily as a piano riff or a guitar solo.
New Jade is totally my favorite club song on the entire record. Lyrically it’s a breakup song, with a choppy vocal sample taken from Janet Jackson’s ‘Love Will Never Do (Without You),’ but it plays as one of Snaith’s grandest, euphoric tracks, and even more so than the rest of the album sounds perfectly at home on a film soundtrack.
There are so many fun details to pick apart where Snaith makes a handful of sounds on the track fill an entire sonic galaxy. A phased-out, twangy guitar pops in as the track lurches into its climactic, stuttery-glitched outro, and you can catch it subtly being reversed-and-forwarded in a way that adds just the right pinch of sparkle and mystery to the song.
But I equally love Home, a jumped-up refresh of soul singer Gloria Barnes’ song by the same name. It’s not even three minutes long and, arguably, you could call it a remix, but it’s the kind of track that so immediately engenders nostalgic, loving feelings. With vibes similar to The Avalanches and a sound out of his older work, Home is one of the sweetest tracks Snaith has ever released.
Like with Our Love, there are a handful of less-ambitious but no less pretty beats on the record, which admittedly starts to lose me at moments on the back half. Never Come Back is pure fun, and Like I Loved You’s beats are chilly and almost moody. Magpie and finisher Cloud Song dip a bit more into Snaith’s super early work as Caribou, with nearly completely electronic instrumentation and soft, pretty, almost drowsy melodies.
Perhaps owing to its sparse production, the album feels a lot shorter than its 44 minutes. And I’ll admit there’s a couple tracks on here, like Ravi, that are usually skips for me when they come on in the car. But there is such a strong clarity to Snaith’s composition that I never doubt what he’s doing, even when he takes me down some odd detours. Suddenly is simply delightful.