My first grade teacher gave my class an assignment where each student learned how to use a dictionary by finding a word that began with the same letter as his/her first initial and described them. I chose the word “dandy,” because it was conveniently located in the beginning of the “D” section. It also included not just my first initial, but my whole first name. I was especially proud of this fact — after all what word could possibly contain “Sarah” or “Kenneth” and describe them? My teacher responded with an arched eyebrow and an uh-huh look. It took me 10 years to understand that response. And to understand there were few dandy qualities in mainstream masculine culture — this was the ‘90s, after all.
The ‘00s are an aesthetically different time. Men have more leeway in sartorial self-expression. The power suit has been replaced by a more personal, often informal look. And, hell, the fashion world has become staple subject of the art-house documentary circuit.
So a dandy-savant like Daedelus should hardly shock current sensibilities. The DJ/producer attracts as much attention for his Victorian duds as his complex beat collages. What makes Daedelus remarkable is that his sensibilities feel timeworn and second nature, as opposed to recent and trendy. Since his debut in 2001 he has approached his music like a true iconoclast: with particular and deliberate attention.
Appropriately Daedelus titled his eleventh studio album Bespoke. He described the title as a reflection of both his self and an “outlook on life.” Truthfully the title speaks more to the meticulous customization he lavishes on each track. The attention is tangible from the first notes of the swirling album-opener “Tailor-Made.” Swooping strings and a steadily building pulse collapse into each other like a choppy sea, but Daedelus carefully navigates Milosh’s vocals through the storm. Similarly the detached cool of Inara George’s (of the Bird and the Bee) voice wanders carefully through an exotic Candyland of chugging hip-hop blap, huffing synths and Sumac-ian soprano counterpoint. The album’s highlight is Daedelus’ reunion with Busdriver on “What Can You Do?” The song is a paisley soul number at a UK Garage clip, punctuated by the emcee’s gorgeously sung baritone. It also captures Daedelus’ connection between contemporary rave/bass with ‘60s-era rave-up music. In this manner, the album frequently feels like a spin cycle of ideas, foaming and slushing endlessly.
Almost inevitably the density of such detail weighs down the second half of the record. The drooping “French Cuffs” almost drags the album under by snuffing the momentum built up by the preceding “What Can You Do?” And “Slowercase D.,” as cool a drink as it may be, feels too familiar in a world overrun by synths and dub-inflections. In spite of this second half lag, Daedelus continues to exhibit a tremendous capacity for distilling disparate ideas into something personable.