Touring with Radiohead is going to probably get you thinking about that side project you’ve had on the backburner for a while. There aren’t many other contemporary bands that exemplify the usefulness of making different music under a different name. Yorke got Autechre out of his system before the sedate In Rainbows; Selway gave the singer-songwriter thing a go ahead of The King of Limbs; and Greenwood’s orchestral scores reflect the marginal place strings have in the band’s sound. And so after five months on the road with the Oxford band, rather than a true sequel to Caribou‘s 2010 album Swim, we have Jiaolong, the first full-length release of Dan Snaith’s Daphni side project.
For solo artists the leap between day job and side project is often just as much about dividing approaches and controlling expectations. Daphni came into existence on a split 12’ after a chance encounter with Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, in March of last year, and while of late both had been making broadly similar music – a kind of woozy dance obsessed with the smallest measures of repetition – the pair arrive in that place from different starting points. Watching the two live is pretty instructive of the difference: Hebden slouched over a laptop; Snaith jamming on a guitar in all-white-everything. So Daphni is less about making radically different music and more about marking intent, highlighting what he does differently with Caribou; it’s less a side project and more a pseudonym – the Clark Kent to his Caribou Superman – that allows Snaith to separate his Radiohead-supporting, guitar-playing artist-creator look from his decks-hopping, anti-EDM-manifestoing DJ persona.
Outlining the project in his own words Snaith has said he’ll continue with it “sporadically” and that Caribou remains the priority. Consequently Jiaolong feels like a sketchpad of passing interests and favourite sounds. Songs like ‘Jiao’, a track typical of the album’s oriental feel with its Arabic guitar jangle and regimented beat, offer façades that ebb and flow – throughout, Snaith drops in gratuitous textures with his specially-made analogue synth – but never really stray from the 4/4 stomp that makes clear the record’s primary interest in the relationship between the dancefloor and the DJ. You can take your techno with snake charmer flute and bubbly squiggles as on ‘Light’, or you can try the analogue drum loop and flangy synth strains offered by ‘Ahora’. On the less remarkable tracks, it’s much of a muchness to a headphone listener.
More engaging is ‘Ye Ye’, the first track released by Snaith under the Daphni name. Built on a sweaty house sprint, the track’s panting vocal sample (which shares an affinity with the infinite chanting on Swim’s ‘Sun’), numerous extra measures of percussion and globular synth lines coalesce into an an uneasy forward gait that – pleasingly – always feels like it ends just too soon.
True to its name – Jiaolong is both a mythological Chinese beast and a deep-sea submersible– and all good DJ sets, Snaith explores across time and borders. Buried deep in ‘Ye Ye’ is a time-trial sample from William Onyeabor’s superlative ‘When the Going Is Smooth and Good’. (In a sense the track’s title is also a nod to a form of French pop music recently popularised in anglophile countries by an episode of Mad Men.) Likewise, interlaced with an outsized, disintegrating synth line, opener ‘Yes, I Know’ takes a liberal slice of the brassy stutter and soul vocal from Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles’ ‘The Segment’. Hopping back across the Atlantic, ‘Cos-Ber Zam Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)’ is as the title suggests: a loose retooling of a Tongan one-hit-wonder heightened by bassy wobble and a sky-bound psychedelic synth line. Despite being a surface-level, DJ-like reinterpretation – the hypnotic refrain sounds cut and looped, but is as found – it’s one of the record’s highlights.
Both born from that same 12″, Jiaolong feels like the darker sister record to Four Tet’s Pink. Reviewing that album, Quietus writer Nick Southall commented that it sometimes feels more like content “tied into its purpose“. Like that, there’s no doubt that Jiaolong’s cuts would sound better received in a state of distraction on the kind of dancefloor Snaith’s been romanticising of late; as it is, it feels like a competent taster for his work as a DJ. Hurrying to Google to find the originals the record samples often brings up a track just as good and broadly recognisable. Rather than redesigning tracks, Daphni’s reverential sampling feels like a knowledgeable friend eager to share the spoils of a weekend’s crate-digging. In this sense Jiaolong is a useful, good-enough record, but as an album made for a more ‘indulgently solipsistic’ listening process, it’s awkward. No wonder he needed that pseudonym.