There are a select few who can claim to have as much of an impact on electronic music in the 21st century as Caribou, also known as Dan Snaith. In the 2000s, he expanded upon the plunderphonics of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing with Up In Flames and flirted with a psychedelic Laurel Canyon sound on Andorra. In the 2010s, he ventured into dancehall on Swim and Our Love. Throughout his career, whether as Montreal or Caribou, he has pushed electronic music towards the sublime. Similarly to Four Tet, Caribou tends to explore the idea of vibrance through his music. As a result, color and texture have become domineering tools in Caribou’s arsenal. He will often let layers of sound invade the mix until the music blends into one element. Now, entering the new decade, it seems Caribou is opting for a more reserved approach, resulting in his most contemplative album yet: Suddenly.
He appears to be emulating several artists on the record, including Floating Points, whose style has always favored a more introspective listening experience. Suddenly finds Snaith embracing soft and isolated synth tones alongside the pop-inspired dancehall he’s so familiar with — synth tones that sound eerily similar to the tones on Floating Points’ last record. Another influence is Against All Logic (Nicolas Jaar), whose 2012-2017 project reinvigorated house, capturing more mainstream listeners. Both albums exhibit very in-your-face type sample work. This type of plunderphonics is new for Caribou. Before, his use of samples was always as a means to fill the background with some color; now, it’s an integral player in most of the songs on Suddenly. The vocal samples in particular on tracks like “Sunny’s Time” and “New Jade” demonstrate an effort on the part of Snaith to find more esoteric ways of developing a song.
Song development in general is much different here than on previous records. Suddenly feels more definitive in its direction. The music doesn’t wander off because it doesn’t have the time. Snaith finds virtue in brevity with an average track length of less than four minutes. The only song that goes against this trend is the last one which, unsurprisingly, is the longest. As a result, this structural option combined with the occasional trap beat makes this feel like Caribou’s most conservative release. Fortunately, it appears to be intentional, as it leaves room for Snaith to express more lyrically than he ever has in the past.
Snaith makes it pretty clear that Suddenly is about emotional clarity. Every track details a certain moment of transparency where he is able to let out the feelings he has kept confined. His work has always been relatively romantic but typically this was presented through the music. Now, it’s entirely found in his words. He talks of heartbreak and the fear of loss. “You and I” specifically addresses the loss of his brother-in-law, and how such an event can empty someone. He speaks of each aspect with astounding palpability.
Perhaps the only issue with Suddenly is that it’s a bit top-heavy. All of the best and most inventive tracks were put on the first half, leaving the more subdued songs to close out the project. This leaves the album feeling unbalanced. The solution would be as easy as a simple reordering. Regardless, Caribou has put out a strikingly personal effort on Suddenly that leaves the listener enlightened and ready to move forward.