When I was 12 I had my future-career as a professional footballer / video games tester / part-time cowboy all sewn up. Gradually over the subsequent decade those dreams began to evaporate as I watched the cowboy industry dwindle whilst my technically weak football was largely passed-over by major clubs. Still, same deal for everyone right? Nope: not if you’re Dan Snaith.
See, at this point Snaith (aka Caribou aka Daphni) is pretty much the ‘white swan’ version of Walter White. PhD mathematician turns musical savant, leaves behind a thrilling trail of award-winning albums, insane live-performances and eight hour DJ sets to augment a sellout world tour… with RADIOHEAD. Just how much further can one man ascend??
I’ve no idea, which makes this debut side-project under the Daphni name all the more enticing. Taken on its own it’s a shaken-up spray-can of a record that refuses to sit still for a second. Put it in the context of Snaith’s dazzling upward-trajectory and it becomes a celebration of style and form, a sunset party after the main event. Jiaolong is a 48 minute love-affair with the dancefloor, the sound of someone’s life passion being refreshed over and over again.
'I've been surprised by the number of transcendent moments that I, sober and in my mid-30s, have had in clubs in the last few years…' Says Snaith. 'Against my expectations, there's some magic in it still.' And here it is - the magic that is. Spread out over nine tracks there’s enough stuff here to keep your body warm through winter, a whole coral reef of restless sounds and writhing textures. If you’ve not heard ‘Ye Ye’ then crack open another tab and prepare yourself for a six minute joyride. Darting rhythms unfold and reassemble until you find yourself lost under a rainfall of percussive synth. The bassline seems to warp the phrasing of the track, expanding and recoiling before locking itself in against increasingly insistent vocal loops and snare rolls. As in Caribou's Swim, the songs here push and pull out of focus, patterns swirl and shift before your brain can fully latch onto them, its intoxicating, and completely brilliant.
‘Wouldn’t this get a bit, y’know, irritating after a while?’ said my friend earlier whilst ’Pairs’ was tumbling out of the speakers. Well, it might. Some tracks could easily give you the urge to somersault around Green Hill Zone, whilst the aquatic-house bloops of ’Light’ bring to mind the Short Circuit robot taking a bath. But it all adds to the frenetic fun of the record; Jiaolong may well find a place alongside some ambient microtonal drone cassette in Wire’s end of year list, but this isn’t an academic exercise, this is firmly for the floor.
In Snaith’s own words, Daphni songs are ‘rough and spontaneous’, crafted intuitively and often played out in clubs on the same day they were drafted. The whole set-up evokes a real ‘master-at-work’ vibe. As a listener you’re dragged much closer to the heartbeat of the song than in swathes of other pored-over, glossy EDM. You can sense the instincts at work here, you can hear each oscillator and envelope being wrestled with and sharpened into focus on songs like ‘Long‘ and ‘Ahora‘. Like watching Ron Swanson carve a canoe you can’t help but appreciate how crafted and hands-on Jiaolong feels, Snaith even built his own synthesiser to finish off the album. Dragging boxes around on Ableton is great n’all, but Jiaolong is a living, breathing animal, and all the better for it.
7Hayden Woolley's Score