Photo: Nitasha Kapoor / Courtesy of Motormouth Media

Electropop’s Caribou Offers Joy Through Unpredictability on ‘Suddenly’

Suddenly is Caribou's most willfully experimental album to date, his soft, distinctive vocals flow through every track, binding the whole thing together.

28 February 2020

Life, by its very nature, is unpredictable. We all try to draw up the best map we can to guide us through the day, but there will always be routes and paths that can’t possibly be anticipated. For Daniel Snaith, the man behind Caribou, the five years that separated the critically acclaimed Our Love and new album Suddenly were characterised by unforeseeable changes as his closest, most intimate relationships evolved and reformed. It’s this idea that lies at the heart of both his most wildly experimental and yet touchingly heartfelt album to date.

Opening with gentle arpeggiated synths, coloured with layers of folky guitar strumming, “Sister” is a lilting, almost lullaby-like piece with Snaith’s tender voice flowing over everything like a comforting, warm breeze. It’s a beautifully weighted, soft-edged opening that leads perfectly into what follows. “You and I” acts as a distillation of everything that Snaith was aiming to achieve with the album. The ’80s synthpop chords and twinkling keyboard figure lull the listener into a false sense of security before sweeping the rug away completely with thrilling, disorientating, clipped loops and Indian vocal samples. As Snaith has said in interviews for the album, this sudden swerve represents the unpredictable nature of change — the idea that underpins the whole album.

This heady, erratic approach continues with “Sunny’s Time”. Again, opening in skeletal fashion with the gentle dance of descending piano notes and crystalline electronics, the whole thing suddenly flips with the introduction of a spectacular hip-hop sample. After the stuttering “New Jade” replete with flamenco guitar, this opening section peaks with stunning lead single “Home”. With its soulful, sunshine groove, created with layers of vintage-sounding samples, breakbeats, and reverberating guitar, there’s a wonderful sense of familiarity to it.

“Lime” adds a little jazz to the soul pot as the song gracefully meanders to its conclusion like a lost Gil Scott Heron backing track. The stunning “Never Come Back” begs to be a crossover hit. It’s a banging, dance floor filler with a pumping beat and deep house chords. With its hypnotically repetitive vocal hook, it stands to be an earworm for the ages. “Filtered Grand Piano” is pretty much what it says on the tin while “Like I Loved You” takes its cues from ’90s R&B. Over a shuffling beat, Snaith articulates a heartbreakingly tender tale of lost love. “Magpie” is even more affecting. A moving tribute to sound engineer Julia Brightly, it’s devastating in its unfiltered, emotive simplicity.

It’s these stirring moments that give the album its heart, but that, thankfully, doesn’t come at the expense of those big club-ready moments that electrify twitchy feet. Bouncing dancefloor stomper, “Ravi” bounds out of the gate like an excitable toddler while retaining that multi-textured, experimental edge. As with the rest of the album, he bolts unexpected musical elements together to form something stellar like assembling a sports car from items left lying around the shed. Album closer, “Cloud Song” ends things on an almost transcendental note. Over undulating, polished electronics, Snaith steadily builds to a yawning climax with his voice disappearing behind a thick curtain of synths.

There is a strange dichotomy at the heart of Suddenly. While it’s probably his most willfully experimental album to date, his soft, distinctive vocals flow through every track, binding the whole thing together. Shifting from clattering samples to lush electronics to moments of soul-stirring beauty tracks never stay in the same sonic space for long. Just like life, the joy comes from the sheer unpredictability of it all.

RATING 8 / 10