Snaith synthesizes numerous elements and styles into a cohesive whole without losing the individual flavors of the reference points that inform him.
Few artists benefited as much as Dan Snaith from the general collapse of boundaries surrounding formerly siloed divisions within and without electronic music in the 2010s. His Caribou moniker, initially tied to a sound that used electronics mostly to flesh out a sound indebted to the psych-folk revival of the 2000s indie scene, staked out a new direction with 2010’s Swim, one wreathed in shades of techno and house in an anticipation of the next decade’s comingling of those genres. Suddenly is Caribou’s first LP since 2014’s watershed Our Love, though Snaith himself has hardly been absent from view. As Daphni, he pivoted fully into the sounds of club music, largely setting aside his roots as an indie pop songwriter to completely flesh out his new identity as a leading figure of the electronic scene.
Snaith slips back into that role as a popsmith with striking ease on Suddenly, though he brings his widest sonic palette yet to his writing. Tracks lay simple foundations that blossom into intricate layers; “You and I” starts with a 4/4 beat and some warm synth chords before a percolating twinkle adds a shimmering texture to his plaintive, lightly-strained vocals. Approximately halfway through the track, the vocals splinter and fragment into heavily pitch-shifted stutters that are matched by a staccato, brittle synth pattern and abrupt trills of squealing noise. The next track, “Sunny’s Time,” inverts this dynamic, opening with a collapse of glitching shudders that gradually coalesces into shape around an elegant, if slightly manipulated, piano line that shows Snaith playing around with the musical syntax of trap.
Hip-hop is a key touchstone of the album, running through not only “Sunny’s Time” but “New Jade,” which uses chopped-and-screwed vocal samples that could have come from a classic Night Slugs release alongside a stuttering drum/dulcimer beat to underpin a paradoxically pleading vocal from Snaith, in which he coos lines like “Don’t you believe what he says / It’s always lies anyways / Could be waiting for so long / And now he’s finally gone” to the object of his desire. “Home” rides a hotwire funk guitar scratch that sounds as overheated and crackling as a classic G-funk sample.
Elsewhere, Snaith finds more freedom than ever in the blurring of genre lines. “Lime” starts out as a squelching piece of cyber funk that livens up jazz fusion with spacey effects. Snaith’s vocals enter with a tonal counterpoint of summery bliss as he beckons “Make up your mind / Before it goes away / Don’t waste your time / Don’t let it slip.” Then, in the final minute, the laser-beam synths drop out into a dubby pocket of echoing space where only the odd titter of a beat or distant, wordless vocals pierce the howling void. Snaith accomplishes these wild oscillations of tone in under three minutes, as if compressing one of Burial’s post-Untrue EP suites into the time limits of a classic AM single. “Cloud Song” opens with nothing but a pattern that beeps and buzzes lightly under Snaith’s softly delivered vocals in a bit of indietronica bedroom pop. Gradually, more and more elements are added into the mix, contrapuntal beats that only exacerbate the woozy quality of the track until it swells into one giant, psychedelic roar of noise.
For all of the experimentation, though, Suddenly does boast a few tracks that coalesce the album’s eccentricities into focused and compelling pop. “Never Come Back” focuses the kind of high-pitched, rhythmically chopped vocal samples used on “New Jade” into a stable melody that forms an equator between the driving percussion and Snaith’s floating vocals. “Ravi” shows off the simple mastery of four-on-the-floor bangers that Snaith developed over the last few years as Daphni, all house euphoria building and building into ever-higher climaxes. On the album’s best track, “Like I Loved You,” a staggered yet oddly smooth drum skitter redolent of Richard D. James Album-era Aphex Twin undulates underneath more of Snaith’s simple but gently emotive vocals. Electronic squiggles morph into jazzy filigrees of guitar in a testament to the subtle ways that Suddenly casually transforms from second to second, showing off Snaith’s ability to synthesize numerous elements and styles into a cohesive whole without losing the individual flavors of the reference points that inform him.