REVIEW: Caribou – Suddenly

Warning: this review may contain adverbs.

Electronic music isn’t often praised for its lyrical depth. Neither will this album be looked back on as one that broke new ground for the genre. Sparse opener ‘Sister’ is swiftly followed by the reflective south-Asian-tinged ‘You and I’. But before Caribou gets on to the oxymoronic gentle bangers (more on these later) he is known for, it seems he needs to get something off his chest, some relationships to repair, some grief to deal with. To first relieve some anxiety in order to freely have a good time later in the album:

“Sister I promise you I’m changing, you’ve heard broken promises I know.
If you want to change it you must break it, rip it up and something new will grow.”

A common trait in many of the songs on this is album is such a change, ripping it up and something new coming along. Contrasts abound. Caribou’s distinctive falsetto vocals, some gentle piano, a noodle on a familiar sounding yet unidentifiable instrument, are juxtaposed with a sudden drop of a beat, some rap (ish) here and there, a carefully curated sample. ‘Sunny’s Time’ extraordinarily does nearly all of these in just under three minutes like a super concentrated concept album. Some, like ‘Lime’, really keep you on your toes as they fade suddenly (yes, suddenly) and unexpectedly into something else entirely, mid-phrase.

Another contrast is ‘Home’. It was the first single released from the album and it’s my least favourite here. The gap between my expectations of Caribou and what ‘Home’ delivers is too great for me. The soulful sample just doesn’t comfortably inhabit the sonic landscape Caribou has created on this and his numerous other albums. But perhaps I will listen again in the summer with fonder (and warmer) ears.

Fortunately, most recent single ‘Never Come Back’ is possibly the archetype of what I’m calling the gentle banger. I’ve never heard a piano breakdown in a dance tune where they’re not just hammering the keys as hard as they can. There’s little dynamic range in popular music, compared to say classical, but where Robyn and Tame Impala have perfected the ‘sad banger’, Caribou plays on the theme with an appreciation for quiet that few other artists respect in the same way. I’m going to go out on a limb and say there are two other gentle bangers on Suddenly, ‘New Jade’ and ‘Ravi’. The former looks back, with a sound not unlike Caribou’s 2010 album Swim. The latter looks forward and is more akin to the new, more commercial sound of ‘Never Come Back’.

After a banger, there is a comedown, and Caribou is back in a wistfully longing mood on ‘Like I Loved You’ – “does he love you like I used to do?”. Not before the short and serene instrumental oddity of ‘Filtered Grand Piano’. Piano, this time electric, is back on ‘Magpie’ and I could listen to its solo section all day as it moves melancholically around evocative minor chords.

Suddenly is surprising in many good ways. Looking in different directions, moving around, packing a lot in, accommodating several moods. Suddenly you’ve got to the end before you’ve fully appreciated it all. Stick it back on, in any situation, and it will continue to gently, not suddenly, reveal itself.

Words by James Spearing

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