Dan Snaith's latest under the Caribou moniker offers plenty of surprises – and a few disappointments, finds Liam Inscoe-Jones

As Caribou, Dan Snaith’s output can be divided into two distinct periods. During the 2000s he was a sonic explorer, lashing together motorik grooves with 90s IDM and 60’s pych-pop on The Milk of Human Kindness and Andorra. During the last ten years Caribou settled into a newfound consistency: psych delivered through hypnotic and synthetic micro-house jams. Snaith said that he wanted those albums to evoke the feeling of water, and this album – whose cover depicts a pool of it – exists in the same sonic world. Suddenly doesn’t deliver the same catharsis of submersion, however. It’s slippery, yes, but evasively so.

The genre collisions persist; lead single ‘You & I’ merges intricate IDM with the synth-pop of early Pet Shop Boys, and the combination of these sounds, triggered vocal loops and a whirling guitar solo at the songs’ end work seamlessly, like a well-executed house cut. But while smoother unions may sound appealing, without the exciting conflict of his earlier records these songs can slip into the indistinct, somehow rendering the coming together of eclectic reference points unremarkable. Other sonic choices don’t exactly help, such as the piano tone at the outset of ‘Lime’, which a hotel residency on the Costa del Sol may consider a little chintzy.

Some songs are more stirring. The hip-house vocals which break out of the otherwise breezy ‘Sunny’s Time’ are certainly a surprise. Genuinely rousing are ‘New Jade’ and ‘Home’, two funk-inflected house grooves, the latter of which kneads Gloria Barnes into a smile-inducing groove. But then there’s the too-long ‘Never Come Back’, which is predicated on the success of a rather plain female vocal loop. The cow-bells which arrive after four minutes cruelly hint at the furious dynamism of Snaith’s 2019 EP Sizzling, released under his Daphni moniker, inducing a craving for songs which are committed either to raucous dancefloor energy or entrancing ambience, rather than lurking ambivalently in the space between. ‘Cloud Song’ is a lovely, slowly-expanding closer, but while it has the mood of a contemplative comedown, it’s effectiveness is limited by the fact the songs that it follows didn’t hit in the first place. Snaith says that a life-changing event informed these songs, but on an emotional level this barely comes across, particularly in his vocal performances.

I’m aware that this isn’t a popular criticism, but I find Snaith’s voice to be somewhat characterless. His words often denote high emotion, like when he proclaims “it’s always better when I’m with you” on ‘Magpie’, but his soft cooing hardly sells it. Sometimes his style works, such as on ‘Like I Loved You’; one of the albums best and – notably – most emotionally upfront. When Snaith asks “does he love you liked I love you / do you miss me like I miss you?” his soft delivery reads like barely-concealed torment. Interjected with a trembling mandolin, the song is a transcendent moment, but one which also underlines what’s absent about Suddenly at large. The narrative and sonic stylings of these songs have the aesthetic qualities of intimate music, but Snaith’s anonymous intonations, sometimes bathed in layers of muddy distortion, hold the listener at a frustrating distance. Like the album’s artwork it advertises transparency, but delivers only more obscurity.

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