Caribou’s Our Love opens with the chilly repetition of a heavily processed voice, intoning the song’s title, “Can’t Do Without You,” which could serve as the album’s dominant motif. The slogan repeats incessantly throughout the entire track, on its own at first, then in the background as the song stirs to life, the music mounting and gradually taking over the focus. The intent of the track seems clear, distilling the pain of loss down to a mantra, which first becomes the stimulus for creativity, then is overcome by the fruits of that inspiration. Yet while the album works off a similar emotional arc, tracing a period of post-breakup fragility from defeat to acceptance and eventually recovery, it’s ultimately too mired in minor-key gloom, too enamored with sodden misery to sonically or lyrically convey that passage from darkness to light.
Whatever has happened to Caribou mastermind Dan Snaith of late, it seems to have put him in the mood to examine the deep valleys of heartbreak, and while his usual fastidious focus on song construction keeps the music intermittently interesting, Our Love’s oppressive fixation on sorrow makes it a bit hard to deal with, reaching for intimacy, but more often expressing soporific self-pity. This is for the most part sad, sleepy music, downtrodden to the point of dreariness, lacking the nervous energy and addictive grooves of 2010’s Swim or the sample-based bounciness of Snaith’s recent side project, Daphni. Instead, he opts for dense songs that seem simplistic on the surface, burying their internal complexity beneath sluggish tempos and sighing vocals, mired in the drowsy torpor of romantic desolation.
There’s nothing wrong with a little musical wallowing, and while repetition-heavy electronica can be an ideal platform for communicating the cycling torment of emotional turmoil, serious creativity is needed to make despair sound interesting. Music like this is about creating a mood, and the one established throughout Our Love is too often the same expression of lifeless melancholy. Songs like “Silver” are therefore seductive on the surface, but end up corroded by weepy, unimaginative lyrics, while others, such as “Mars” and the title track, sound half-finished despite their length. Snaith eventually does work his way out of the darkness, and while the consistent production value and a pair of vibrant, energetic closing tracks keep the album from feeling like a total wash, it’s also an uncharacteristically uneven effort from a generally consistent artist.