With the bold title Our Love and the bold goal to create “something for everybody to listen to,” Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, has returned from a four-year slumber seemingly ready to don a cape. But as a cerebral musician who keeps his mathematics doctorate in one pocket and a Lego from his three-year-old daughter in the other, Snaith isn’t trying to explain the complexities of love. He’s not even feigning authority over love’s dictionary. What he is doing is showing us love from his point of view and raising questions that envelop more than any answer could. He dog-ears life chapters and highlights fleeting lines of conversation. Snaith balances the logistical with the emotional, and this time he hits that point of fusion with perfect simplicity.
Caribou’s sixth studio album comes from a man whose efforts in other genres prioritized playful reinvention over regurgitation. Unlike the Krautrock tendencies of 2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness or earlier work that mixed psych pop with IDM, Our Love sees Snaith returning to dance music’s core. Its blissful songs “Julia Brightly” and “All I Ever Need” outline the shape of the human heart, but never wallow enough to puncture it. If he wanted grittier tracks that could catch a few beads of sweat on the dancefloor, Snaith would have reshaped them under his Daphni moniker. But that tempting idea (he did remix “Our Love”) was shelved in favor of mellow rumination on tracks like “Back Home”.
Lead single “Can’t Do Without You” kicks off the record with four years’ worth of pent-up energy. A little over a minute in, the wear of repetition is bypassed as synths begin to flood, swelling until the pressure becomes comfortable. Intended to be a euphoric song about his daughter’s dependence on him as a father, the chorus of “I can’t do without you” opens itself to alternative meanings, ultimately sounding like a tale of an obsessive relationship turned dysfunctional.
Our Love does its best to explore the frustrations of love with a partner, child, and family. As much as Snaith peels from his own heart, Caribou’s sound doesn’t settle on straightforward lyrics beaming about his brand-new role as a father. These songs boil with emotion, even the shorter tracks like “Dive” that sputter to an end with the gurgled sigh of a last call cocktail. Love has got Snaith down on himself. That much is impossible to miss.
As such, Our Love needed a little outsider help. Snaith enlisted collaborators Owen Pallett and Jessy Lanza, who ended up playing a bigger part on the album than their titles might indicate. According to Snaith, Pallett acted as an editor, emailing cuts and suggestions for songs that gave him an outsider’s perspective. Lanza, too, nudged him to keep bending his sound. Without her, “Second Chance” wouldn’t have its inflamed pop verse or playfully kitschy chords. Even still, Lanza’s track feels out of place. Caribou’s organized track list is broken by the backing synthesizers that shift out of tune with her sweet R&B melody. It’s hard to tell if that’s part of his game: As soon as the innards of love begin to warm us, we’re shaken back to the floor by the bitter words of an ex. Too jarring, or too true to life?
Caribou’s growth as an artist can be completely summed up in the title single. Beginning with his warm vocals and a foreboding synth, it doesn’t take long for the frenzy of a bass drop to come. Pallett shows up for some snappy baroque string arrangements that run away from stadium-sized snares and pricking piano. Snaith layers each part masterfully, holing himself up in the sound until it’s a whole world on its own. It’s a perfect example of how basement house music can overwhelm, and how that very overdose is the escape we look for, no matter how high or low we are.
As the album comes to a close with “Your Love Will Set You Free”, Caribou shines among the muddled stitching of healed heartbreak and fatherhood. Sonar echoes guide the club bass back into the mix, while funk guitar and hushed vocals flirt. We hear Snaith sighing as he sings, “I can’t tell you how hard it has been since I left you/ You’re my sweet thing, the only thing I want is to caress you.” Then Pallett’s violin returns, luring us further into the song’s lucid NyQuil dream.
Caribou hones in on the pegs and cogs on Our Love, trying his best to produce a clean sound for everyone. It’s rich in slow-burning ambiguity, and it may be vibrant and clean, but it doesn’t entice dialogue quite the same way his past albums have. Snaith makes it clear that there’s no real second chance when it comes to understanding what love is, and if we’re allowed to find a concrete answer by the end, it could spoil all the music, anyway.
Essential Tracks: “Our Love”, “Can’t Do Without You”, and “Your Love Will Set You Free”