On Suddenly, Caribou Finds Pop Brilliance in Loss

Dan Snaith returns to Caribou six years after Our Love

Music Reviews Caribou
On Suddenly, Caribou Finds Pop Brilliance in Loss

The weight of mortality permeates throughout Suddenly, Dan Snaith’s latest album under his Caribou moniker. Between the death of a close relative, the birth of a second child and the possibility that the world will collapse under the weight of its own hubris, it’s hard to fault Snaith for ruminating about the big beyond.

“I can’t do it all on my own,” he sighs contemplatively on “Sister” over a spectral synth and the sound of his mother singing a lullaby. The subject of his admission is unclear, but it’s a thesis statement that recurs throughout his career, most overtly in Our Love’s “Can’t Do Without You,” the euphoric record and single that brought him big-font festival lineup placements and conservative talk radio airplay.

Suddenly unspools itself more easily than any of his past work, in part thanks to how sharp and pert the sound itself is, but that belies the continued intricacy of Snaith’s handiwork. When he finds lulls in grooves, moments of seeming complacency, he discovers new ways to insert additional stimuli: the split-second breakbeat in the chorus of propellent garage jam “New Jade” or the guitar loop that sours ever so slightly to match its lyrical conceit on “Like I Loved You,” a song that itself sounds like it shares mutant DNA with a Neptunes-produced joint.

Still, it’s strange to imagine that the Caribou who, a decade ago, waterlogged and pushed a Bollywood dance track into its upper limits on “Odessa,” is capable of crafting a track so seemingly straightforward as “Home”—a flipped-soul sample steeped in decades of rap and R&B, as explained by Paste contributor Zach Schonfeld for Vice. That, too, still has touches of lushness—triumphant strings peeking out chimes barely noticeable in the mix, Snaith and sampled vocalist Gloria Barnes duetting, as if in conversation with one another across temporal planes.

A constant motif of rapid shift runs through Suddenly. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Snaith said that Suddenly was informed loosely by the aesthetics of modern pop-rap: Drake, Post Malone, Tyler, the Creator. Those influences show themselves here in the embrace of direct, radio-friendly pleasures, but also in the ways that, like, say “Passionfruit” or “Life is Good,” flipped onto its B-side abruptly or paused for a well-placed sample before fully settling into its groove.

“Lime” takes the form of an early Caribou cut, or perhaps a Röyskopp-featuring-Erlend Øye track, until it transforms into a Pop&B track for 30 seconds, and then a slow, sad thud, like a mental flipping of a radio dial. The almost-interlude “Sunny’s Time,” which conjures up a plaintive piano recital pirouetting with a gruff, inscrutable rap vocal, feels like sugar to water dissolving in real time. Meanwhile, the lovely “Magpie,” for about a minute-and-a-half, is its own “song playing from another room” remix, until it enters the room you’re sitting in like a latent memory.

Snaith told Stereogum that the intention behind the record is placing the familiar and unfamiliar in union. But more crucially, he admits that the goal was to recontextualize his sadness—and that of his loved ones, like the sister-in-law that “New Jade” was inspired by—into songs for unity.

On Suddenly, this admission manifests itself in myriad ways: strident determination to make it through this mortal coil, pleas for temporary comfort, mourns and laments for a person no longer in his life—either by choice or circumstance. Coupled with some of the loosest, most pop-minded production of Snaith’s career, Suddenly becomes a glimmer of optimism, immaculate music for communal grief and celebration. In that, it’s the most vital album of his career.

Revisit Caribou’s 2010 Daytrotter session:

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