Caribou Channels Dance Music Into New Dimensions With ‘Suddenly’
Dan Snaith began releasing music under the name Manitoba, putting out EPs with such priceless titles as “People Eating Fruit” and “If Assholes Could Fly This Place Would Be an Airport.” He has since adopted the moniker Caribou, for a full band project in which he is the visionary. With a doctorate in mathematics, it’s no surprise that he displays an exceptional technical prowess. However, he has always struck a rare balance, turning out mobilizing, dancefloor-friendly tunes with ingenious angles, without wallowing in pretension. He won the prestigious Polaris Music Prize for his 2007 album “Andorra,” and has honed his singular style over the years, scoring a major breakthrough hit with “Odessa” from 2010’s “Swim.” His latest record, “Suddenly,” named whimsically after his daughter’s favorite word, shows him more in his element than ever before, zipping through varied electronic styles, and spinning their fabric into engaging songs with a distinctive flair.
Opener “Sister” launches directly into an idiosyncratic mood, with no need to build up, the poignant opening chords immediately bringing you to an elusive headspace, detuning and wheezing about. Snaith’s stark, unaffected voice contrasts with the shifting undertones, and incidentals near the end bring pangs and send shivers. Then, “You and I” begins with a proper, standard kick and snare, and a classic dance pulse, with the keys mutating like in the last track, veering leftfield, then erupting into a soundscape laden with overlapping pitch-shifted vocals and expressive flourishes.
Boldly detuned keyboards are the template on this album, and on “Sunny’s Time,” the ornate melodies with their sudden mutations echo “The King of Limbs”-era Radiohead. Midway, a rap sample is overlain with synth horns, and allowed to repeat into oblivion, and the track becomes exhilaratingly surreal. “New Jade” builds on this aesthetic, but assumes a form closer to UK garage. Snaith goes to town with percussion here, throwing in long fills that sound like he’s having too much fun, and it’s brilliant. The meticulously sliced samples keep coming, and near the end, droning tones suddenly add a dark, cinematic thrill, and the tempo slows down like strings tugging insistently, drawing a party to an overdue end.
“Home” takes an unanticipated turn, appropriating retro R&B sounds, replete with a soulful vocal sample, kept louder in the mix than natural, alongside Snaith’s moderate singing, and placed over a ridiculously tight, taut drum groove. “Lime” lingers on the emergent funk, easing into ‘70s territory with flamboyant keyboard filigree, Soul Train festivity, and more droning synths to skew and add edge to the whole affair. “Never Come Back” goes full garage, with a typical two-step backbeat and looped vocal sample, as Snaith sings the titular refrain with a priceless demure cool. Hand drums, tuned percussion, and a bright central synth riff give a Madchester Hacienda character to the tune.
“Filtered Grand Piano” is precisely what you would expect from the title, a brief interlude with keys gradually opening and tipping, becoming enveloped in feedback and undertones. After this ambient respite, the crisp dancefloor punch of “Like I Loved You” hits like euphoric catharsis. Snaith zeroes in on a groove, and rides the wave. Midway, amorphous sonics mesh with mellifluous melodies, and the result vividly recalls the sounds of Atoms For Peace. The flurry gives way to a well-situated lull on the lo-fi meditation of “Magpie,” in which a repetitive tin can rhythm elegantly opens and breathes by the guidance of warm Rhodes arpeggios and the mellowest, angelic crooning from Snaith.
“Ravi” curves back to UK garage, and derives its power from indulgent minimalism, with an unrelenting drum loop and vocal sample that thrill with the whimsical darts and dives that they take over the course of the track, finally winding down. soaked in flangers. This is dance music at its most satisfying and primal. Finally, “Cloud Song” withdraws from the frenzy, building around a particularly ‘80s abrasive synth backbone that shifts shapes as Snaith bellows in the open space. There are definite echoes of Grimes, as well as more ‘70s flavor in the grandeur of the production, taking on “Here Come the Warm Jets”-era Brian Eno stylings, and building to a hypnotic, infectious ending.
“Suddenly” is a consummate creation that showcases Caribou elegantly and fluidly traversing an ambitious range of styles, nodding to specific eras with a conviction that marks a master of his craft. House, garage, funk, soul, and plenty more are explored as conduits for expressions that slant more toward singer-songwriter material than your typical electronic fare, deriving their force from deeply-rooted dance traditions, and spinning them into novel forms. For all the ground it covers, the album manages to sound impeccably cohesive, with a central sonic template that gracefully bends to Snaith’s whims and wisdom. Short and sweet, edgy and adventurous, and consistently infectious, the new album is a succinct consolidation of artistic instinct, and a leap forward in sound and style.
“Suddenly” is available Feb. 28 on Apple Music.