Setting a straight dance record loose into the iTunes jungle begs one question beyond others: how do you take the sweat-studded undulations of 4 A.M. nightclubs and compress them into the thin, white wires that feed our earbuds? The late night transcendence about which Dan Snaith waxes publicly poetic might certainly be real for him and anyone who's lurched along with him into the raw hours of tomorrow, but is it really something that can be tucked into our phones alongside the to-do lists and time-wasting minigames that steer us through the blank tedium of everyday life?
Certainly not in full, but there's no question that good dance tracks hold up even when picked up and moved around the subway, the office, the grocery store. We've seen plenty of instances this year of club singles translated through the infinitely replicable format of the mp3, and while none of them wield as much power in themselves as they might at the hands of a skillful DJ lording over a reeling crowd, they make for damn good listening pretty much wherever.
See Four Tet's latest single compilation Pink, its long-form subtleties and how well it rewards the patient. It's the kind of record that conjures up images of the dancefloor without needing to bounce off of one. But Snaith, the Caribou mastermind who works the literal and imaginary turntables as Daphni, spins beats that, without their natural habitat, sound a little bare.
On his Daphni debut Jiaolong, Snaith abandons the meticulous layers and tweaks that comprise his work as Caribou, opting instead for intuitive constructions and free associations. As a result, the tracks are fairly minimal; beats and textures whirl in blackness, always giving each other plenty of space. The record never feels crowded, and we never lose track of the subtlety in each modulated synth, each tilt-shifted sample. It's exceptionally clear what's going on at all times--a quality that seems antithetical to the drunken, bewildered euphoria that usually spills out of the spaces where this music would most naturally live.
Still, Snaith's fingerprints are all over the insistent beats, from the whistles and burbles of "Light" to the pale pinpricks and modulated question marks on "Jiao." It's about what you would expect a simplified Caribou record draped over drum loops to sound like, although most of Jiaolong's best moments come about when Snaith weaves foreign vocal samples into the mix ("Cos-Ber-Zam - Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)" and "Yes, I Know" emerge as highlights). By the album's closer, we're able to get our heads swimming a little as Daphni finally indulges some of the richness and depth that we might have hoped from Caribou-turned-DJ.
It might be telling that of Jiaolong's nine tracks, only two breach the six-minute mark--and just barely at that. While tracks like "Lion" and "Peace For Earth" off Four Tet's Pink took the time to draw us into emulations of electronic underworlds, Jiaolong skips past too many of its ideas as soon as it's introduced them. There are great moments, but they would have benefited from more patience, more time to grow. As such, Jiaolong may be a perfectly competent incarnation of Snaith's undeniable talents, but it doesn't quite induce the stupor it should.