Whether he’s experimenting with psychedelic rock, folktronica or house, Caribou makes music that is, above all else, fun. Ever since his respectable debut “Start Breaking My Heart,” on which Caribou showed he was capable of keeping up with IDM greats Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, the adventurous DJ has carved out a unique role in electronic music by injecting his spirited playfulness into a variety of genres.
“Suddenly,” Dan Snaith’s fifth album as Caribou, is his most personal, his least experimental and potentially his most fun record to date. The songs are far more direct than his earlier work; they feature feel-good samples and nearly follow a verse-chorus structure. Many would pass as great Alt-J or Glass Animals songs.
What elevates these tracks, however, is their thrilling production. Snaith is coming at ready-for-radio folktronica and alternative rock from a rich and diverse musical background. The result is a calculated record that makes all the right decisions. Surprises lurk around every corner, with pianos twisting out of tune and vocal samples barely resembling English, but expectations are also met precisely when they need to be.
The album opens with “Sister,” a quiet tribute to Caribou’s electronic origins in the style of Boards of Canada. What’s new here and throughout the album is Snaith’s crystal clear vocals, which for one of the first times in his career acts as an integral component of his songwriting. This two minute intro beautifully ushers us into the world of “Suddenly.”
EDM rock anthem “You and I” follows, opening with a twinkling atmosphere, a steady drum beat and a synth rhythm reminiscent of Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush.” About halfway through the song, however, chaotic vocal loops in the style of IDM contemporary Burial segue to a psychedelic synth breakdown. It’s the first of many times on “Suddenly” that the tracks feel like they’re about to fall apart into total chaos, but every time Snaith masterfully catches the wave of dishes falling off the shelf and organizes them into neat stacks.
On “Sunny’s Time,” Snaith continues to tempt chaos. Static lurks under a somber and contorted piano melody before the song bursts into another Burial-esque vocal loop. This time, the sample is distinctly hip hop but hardly intelligible. Fuzzy synths and glaring electronics create a startling anxiety as a brassy saxophone builds up to a tumultuous climax. In under three minutes, Caribou creates an atmosphere that is wholly unique and adventurous, never staying in the same place for longer than a few beats. “New Jade” has a similarly dark and anxious mood with higher energy and chiming instrumentation in the style of electronic collaborator Four Tet. Caribou’s soft vocals complement the harsh samples and beats brilliantly here, drawing the record’s first act to a dramatic conclusion.
The album continues with lead single “Home.” The track relies almost completely on a sped up sample of Gloria Barnes’ 1971 song of the same name. Snaith breathes new life into the sampled track, tastefully throwing in his own dynamic fluctuations and playfully singing along with Barnes to create a head-swinging, foot-tapping jam.
“Lime” follows, a groovy space funk jam straight out of “Random Access Memories.” This leads into “Never Come Back,” the album’s weakest track. A standard disco EDM song, “Never Come Back” fails to branch out in the same way that kindred spirit “You and I” does. At over five minutes in length, it’s the first and possibly only instance on “Suddenly” when our attention starts to drift, and the warped piano interlude that follows doesn’t reel us back in.
For that, you’ll have to wait for “Like I Loved You,” but it’s well worth the wait. The song’s sleek synth melodies drift over deep bass distortions, like an electronic Thundercat song. Snaith’s voice is yet again a perfect complement, but the track’s most exciting and dream-inducing sequence comes halfway through with swirling synth improvisation. The chorus returns as Caribou introduces even more layers. The bass distortions return, and we’re left enjoying a spacey and wondrous outro.
“Magpie” sits in the grainy telephone space of its intro for a bit too long, but the Daft Punk slow jam that follows more than makes up for it. Meanwhile, “Ravi,” the record’s penultimate track, suffers from a repetitiveness similar to “Never Come Back.” Caribou’s distorting and warping production choices are a bit more interesting here, however, and the song works well as a segue into the album’s finale (not unlike “Random Access Memory’s” “Doin’ It Right”). “Cloud Song” closes with a synthy intro drifting in and out of focus as Snaith’s voice takes us by the handing, leading us to a comfortable dreamscape that leaves us filled with contentment and wonder.
“Suddenly” dexterously blends its many influences with consistently suspenseful and engaging songwriting and production to create a joyfully unique listening experience. Caribou has crafted songs that are familiar and accessible, and yet they defy expectations at every turn with sample and production choices that could only come from an artist as well-versed as Dan Snaith. It’s exhilarating, soothing and fun, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an audience that “Suddenly” wouldn’t please.
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