Sunset Review :: Daphni – ‘Jiaolong’

October 17th 2012

Daniel Snaith, the man who brought you Caribou and Manitoba, brings back to life his other project, Daphni with a sound that transports you through space and time, all the while containing a dark disco feel. Alessandro Dallarmi ponders whether Daphni is just trying to confuse us, or utterly wow us with these eargasmic tunes…

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After a minute or so listening to Jiaolong’s first track, it’s easy to get a feel for the sound of the whole album. A grungy synth lead pops in and out of holes across a coastal cliff face. Its tone changes shape as it moves: under the water here, then hovering just over the waves, and sometimes up high with the breeze, its sound carried away into the distance. Intricate percussion rattles and shakes amongst this landscape, as a wild beast’s hooves pound into the packed earth on the shore. An orb of sound squeaks into place beneath each stomping hoof, causing bass tones to ripple out violently from each place of impact, before decaying into nothing. Occasionally the beast leaps through the air and the bottom end disappears for a while. Things feel improvised, exciting.

But hang on just three seconds here…

A 500mg dose of soul injects itself into the atmosphere with no sign of warning, causing this tiny universe to twitch its shoulders forward uncontrollably and give in to the unexpected, irresistible groove.

Mistakes can be made. One of the most simple would be to assume that a Daphni record, a Caribou side project no less, is easy to get a feel for within the first minute of the first track. Do not get comfortable.

The blending of electronic music with samples from old jazz and rock records is certainly not a new idea, but Daphni challenges many of the expectations placed around the process by basically trying really hard to weird you out. In fact he takes the word ‘blend’ right out of the equation when he slaps a loop of an obscure West African rock and roll song under disconcerting synth scales that reverberate around your head. But maybe that’s the point.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but things get much more accessible as a haunting pan-flute melody gives way to menacing bass undertones, the spray of lasers, and scattered snare rolls that toy with hi-hats. Knuckles rap on thick wood, reminding me of Joe’s ‘Claptrap’ and carrying the track along before we’re led into dark disco territory. In fact, a lot of the sounds on this album are quite dark – plucked straight from the heads of the techno faithful. However, the way in which Daphni has constructed these sounds definitely doesn’t make it feel like a techno record. The tempos, textures and samples used definitely vary across the board, but there’s this constant intensity that is impossible to shake. While the soundscape often seems sparse, it’s hard to keep track of everything that’s going on.

The rest of the record transports your mind through North American tribal celebrations and across the vast western prairies via ancient Egypt, all the while keeping that dark, experimental feeling. Jiaolong sounds like it was made 50 years ago: an excited young producer venturing into the relatively unknown world of electronic music, flicking all the switches and twisting all the knobs, while letting his mind feed in the influence of the more natural sounds around him, finally ending the musical journey with a fusion of the natural and the synthesised. A computer’s performance of waves crashing on a beach.

It sounds archaic, but I can’t say I’ve heard anything much like it before.


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