Suddenly is an emotive return from veteran producer Dan Snaith. It’s been 5 years since the last outing under his Caribou moniker, and Suddenly is a charming collection of electro tracks that manages to balance lightness of touch with the emotional heft necessary for a breakup album.
And Suddenly is a breakup album. It takes a whole listen to realise, but Snaith’s plaintive vocals on tracks such as ‘Like I Loved You’ nearly all address an absent figure to whom he is emotionally indebted. It helps that his vocals have a naivety to them- in an album filled with intricate synth programming and drum loops, Snaith’s voice is a reassuring constant. Interesting that he chooses to lead with it, too; opener ‘Sister’ is just a mournful vocal and an arpeggiated synth loop, it could easily be a cut off a Thom Yorke album.
But this is distinctly a Caribou album. All the hallmarks of Snaith’s work thus far are here, albeit in an altered form. The warm soul samples that characterise his most well-known work pop up here and there, most notably on lead single ‘Home’, which is some of the most entrancing electro you’ll hear all year. He’s mastered the art of the earworm sample, and the fact that he deploys it so sparingly shows his restraint. None of these tracks follow the structure you’d expect, and only rarely do they slip into actual dance territory. ‘Never Come Back’ is the closest we ever wander to the club, and ‘New Jade’ could be the work of pop wunderkind Flume, all swooping synths and chopped samples. Come to think of it, I’m reminded on more than one occasion of James Blake’s most recent album. Snaith works in less of a pop field to Blake, but has an obvious reverence for pop’s hallmarks, and works them in across the album. There’s even a frenzied sampling and resampling of what sounds like a trap verse on ‘Sunny’s Time’, which for me encapsulates one of the real strengths of Suddenly, the sheer variety on show across these 40-odd minutes. This is without even mentioning the various instrumental interludes sprinkled throughout.
One motif I do want to touch on, is Snaith’s fascination with modulation, as detuning features near-universally through these 12 tracks. It gives the album a disconcerting, unbalanced feel, never quite landing how you expect. The more I think it over, the more I think this is due to the trauma that colours the lyrics throughout, this sensation of separation, of regret. It’s very telling that the final track returns to both of these interwoven ideas, with Snaith’s aching reminder that he’s “broken, so tired of crying / Can’t seem to find my way back to you”. Suddenly never quite confronts the tension at its core, but it doesn’t need to- it’s all in the instrumentation. The final sound we hear is detuned until it’s inaudible- there’s no resolution here, but of course, that’s the point.