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Daphni - Jiaolong

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Artist: Daphni

Album: Jiaolong

Label: Merge

Review date: Oct. 16, 2012

I yearn for the carefree days when my relationship with Dan Snaith was noncommittally cool, easygoing and melodic, the days before I started really thinking hard about what his music as Caribou and Daphni did for me. But the thought of blowing up these small-scale, nice-enough but ragged pieces to the proportions of fully legit dance tracks through criticism is an empty and dishonest chore. It’s not as lacking as I suspected it to be, but it conceals no secrets, which could be a very accessible and generous position if you chose to overthink it. But it’s a far cry from revealing some new truth. Jiaolong is Snaith doing dance music, they say, even though he already kind of did dance music on the last Caribou album, Swims, which, like black tea, was fine going down but created a nauseous, insistent hunger for something of substance.

Jiaolong speaks in a more comprehensible language because it’s not florid psych-pop, but as with Caribou, I do not see a way to become anything other than a spectator of this music. Sometimes you’re a spectator because something is impressive and grand, but more often you’re a spectator because everyone else is having a great time at the party and you’re out on the lawn looking in, bitter for all the wrong reasons, and that wrongheaded bitterness is eating away at your life force, perhaps for good, with your full knowledge and consent but you can’t stop.

There are definitely some things wrong here, though. It’s not that Jiaolong was created quickly, as on-the-fly prep work for DJ sets, and then pressed into records and subsequently collected for people to "really get into." Those aggressive deadlines have actually resulted in something that, while not raw itself, will signify "raw" to people who think dance music is overwhelmingly slick and lacking in personality. In a recent interview with Philip Sherburne, Snaith name-checked Theo Parrish three separate times, just in case anyone doubted his intentions. Another box checked: the hardware/analog cred that comes with a modular synth kit. But his synth work here sounds deliberately poorly integrated and sourly patched, giving the mix a pallid, top-heavy feel, even on "Ye Ye," which is supposed to be some sort of slamming techno choon but whose 8-bit arpeggio never finds a way of contributing to its surroundings. It’s like these gawky synth lines, paired with these chunky, Parrish-indebted shuffles, are trying to intercede on Snaith’s behalf to remind you that this is Creative, Original Dance Music. The Steve Miller Band sky-prog synth line on "Cos-Ber-Zam – Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)," on the other hand, might just be an in-joke. What haunts Jiaolong, as with Dan Snaith’s more carefully composed music, is the feeling that some crucial part is missing, some bridge or tunnel, refrain, coda, or balustrade that would bridge the gap between social media mentions and your actual feelings. But nope.

By Brandon Bussolini

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