Album Review: Daphni – Jiaolong

[Jiaolong; 2012]

Dan Snaith is nothing if not versatile. From his transition from Manitoba to Caribou, and now to Daphni, his sudden bouts of musical ennui leave him constantly searching for new ways to hijack his own sound. On Jiaolong, his first release as Daphni, Snaith extends his reach beyond both of his previous personas and wanders closer to the sweaty epicenter of the dance floor.

While Jiaolong (named for a water-dwelling dragon in ancient Chinese mythology) doesn’t excite in the same way that a lot of Snaith’s previous work has, it is a helluva first try. It’s flooded with spongy rhythms and haywire electroplay, and the creativity hanging around in the margins of these songs almost makes it seems like Snaith is teasing us or even fooling around. Jiaolong is full of moments where it feels like he has more to give. Take (semi) title track “Jiao,” in which space lasers flounder and bumble over what is a pretty compelling percussive backbone.

In fact, the record never really departs from its kid-in-the-sandbox vibe. Still, goofing off doesn’t seem to be Snaith’s intent. Rather, Jiaolong is an open letter to anyone who believes in dance music’s power to move. Every song on here will appeal to some part of your nervous system. What Snaith really seems set out to prove is how disaffected this particular persona is by is by what he has produced in the past; Daphni may as well be someone else entirely.

Much was made of Snaith’s letter earlier this year, in which he called out the increasing rigidity of music in club culture. This is clearly an issue that has hit home for him, and he leads by example in seeing to its correction. The last thing that one would think to accuse Jiaolong of is being overcooked or stagey. Indeed, Jiaolong wastes no time establishing itself as an alternative. Opener, “Yes, I Know” is a joyous union of soul, house and electro and one of the best songs on the album.

Lead single “Ye Ye,” which looks much better when stacked between the middling combo of “Coz-Zer-Bam” and “Light,” makes do with precious little. It’s one of the livelier tracks, zippy and playful and taking on an almost jocular quality. It’s still not entirely clear if Snaith’s left hand knows what his right hand is doing. The impulsivity that he has carried with him for most of his career has come into full bloom on Jiaolong. Then again, that’s probably the whole point of Daphni in the first place.