ALBUM OF THE MONTH - Feb 2020: Caribou - Suddenly
Worth The Wait
It's been five years since Canadian musician Dan Snaith released a record under the pseudonym of Caribou. 2015's Our Love proved a wonderful continuation to Caribou's hyper-processed electronic style, but now with 2020's Suddenly a distinctly new approach from the composer is clear to see.
This newest album is serene, it is vulnerable and it is effortlessly satisfying to listen to. This is Snaith's best work by some distance, feeling confident enough to strip back production from previous efforts such as 2010's Swim or 2017's Joli Mai (released under the moniker of Daphni.) Suddenly takes many sharp turns in its music-making, provide each song a relentlessly fascinating unpredictability, but at the same time is an entirely natural and fluid experience. This record goes in surprising places, but at no point do any of the LP's left turns feel uncomfortable or jarring. This is a masterfully created album and it is laying down a strong opening statement for electronic music in 2020.
This album's sound is laser-precise. Keys and guitars bend up and down in pitch, but each frequency feels like it was chosen with an utterly exact specification. After the soft and introspective opener 'Sister', single 'You and I' encapsulates what Suddenly has to offer. A simple beat and a fragile vocal delivery set the scene, before the song begins taking fantastic 90 degree turns whenever the song starts feeling a little too comfortable. On the note of his singing, Snaith has never sounded as good as he does on this LP. Still delivering his vocals with a sleepy (and potentially unexciting to some) tone, his voice is perfectly encased by a phenomenal crescendo as 'You and I' finishes up.
'Sunny's Time' offers a look into the composers more experimental style, fusing chromatic pianos, hazy vocals, jazzy instrumentation and a rap sample. Similarly, the fantastic 'New Jade' fuses a tight looped vocal sample with excitingly erratic drums, while Snaith posits "Don't you believe what he said? / It's always lies anyways" as an example of the album's emotionally honest lyricism.
'Home' and 'Lime' function very well as standalone songs, to the point that I am surprised that they were not chosen as lead singles for the album. The first offers a wonderful sampling of Bobby Dixon's 'Home' as sung by Gloria Barnes, melded together with Snaith's voice and his expertly crafted production. 'Lime' instead offers a driving drum machine loop behind fluttering synths and another sample, this time pulling from Black Soul's 'The Sphynx'. This track also offers the first insight of the album's virtuosic guitar performances, provided by Colin Fisher.
'Never Come Back' is a little dull, but only in comparison to the high standards that this album has set for itself. There is nothing wrong with the track, it just feels a little dated as a clear throwback to the music of the late 90's / early 00's dance scene. At five minutes long, this song does overstay its welcome at the middle of the LP, particularly when considering its place as easily this album's weakest tune.
It is immediately followed by a short interlude, appropriately entitled 'Filtered Grand Piano' after the instrumentation it features. Shades of Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool surround this album in its sonic palette, and nowhere is this similarity more clear to hear than in this interlude when compared to songs like 'Glass Eyes' or 'Daydreaming'. This is not to say that Caribou is guilty of copying sounds - far from it - this is a gorgeously unique record that happens to occasionally share a similar sound with a masterpiece of a Radiohead record.
What emerges from the instrumental interlude of 'Filtered Grand Piano' is Suddenly's magnum opus and absolutely the best track of the LP in 'Like I Loved You'. Snaith's lyrics are devastatingly revealing of a failed relationship and the difficulties of imagining a ex-partner moving on:
If you find someone else
I'll be glad for you
I have to stop myself from thinking things about the things you'll do
But I can't help myself
The things I think just might be true
What steals the show, even surpassing the admiringly honest songwriting of Snaith however, is the incredible guitar work from Fisher. From about halfway through the tune, Fisher provides an incredible demonstration of his capabilities, tapping a solo with perfectly crafted pitch bends and sweeps. This is some of the most impressive guitar work I have heard in years, and it combines with Snaith's melancholic sighs to form one of the very best songs I have heard this year.
'Magpie' is another beautiful expression of Snaith's worldly anxieties, delivered with a McCartney-esque flourish in a song that sounds as if Beatles For Sale had been fed through a futuristic photocopier. 'Ravi' offers an example of how Caribou could write 2000's dance-revival music well, as opposed to the disappointing 'Never Come Back' as the album closes off with the satisfying 'Cloud Song.' This is a beautiful and haunting record, and is a perfect introduction not only to Caribou, but to the entire genre of introspective electronica. Complete with wonderful production, soul-bearing vocal performances and the incredible work of Fisher, Suddenly is frankly unmissable. There will likely not be a better electronic album released this year, but if there is, it will have to be some LP.
- 9.1 -
'You and I', 'New Jade', 'Like I Loved You'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.
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