By Jim Merrett
Daphni isn’t a girl. Then again, it also isn’t a boy in the ‘A Boy Named Sue’ sense, either. It’s the alter ego of Daniel Snaith, the brains (he has a PhD in mathematics, but if you heard this you could guess that) behind recent Radiohead-support act Caribou (also once known as Manitoba, but that’s a whole other story). And while Snaith is very obviously a man, this is him getting in touch with his feminine side, of sorts. Or slipping into something more comfortable, at least.
The feminine side is true in that moments of Jiaolong (pronounced “jow-long”, apparently) could provoke – and no doubt has provoked – dancing around handbags. It also a distinct move away from the Y-chromosome heavy output of a bunch of hairy-arsed men cobbled together as a “band”. Firstly, there’s no bro-mmittee, no one else you need to explain your ideas to. And secondly, as Snaith himself has said, where an audience go to a gig and expect a band to pull out the same songs night-after-night, as a DJ/producer, you’re praised for pulling a surprise “CHOON!” out of left field.
Here, that creative freedom is a physical force. At its best, what we have here is some of the biggest bangers since Daft Punk’s Discovery, some feat when you consider that many have tried to and most have fallen short (Daft Punk themselves, notably). And it doesn’t get much better than opening gambit ‘Yes I Know’, brimful of throbbing pulses and clattering, skittish, dance floor-crunching drumbeats that gracefully gives into a borrowed car boot sale soul classic. (And it doesn’t get much more of a brazen lift of Daft Punk than ‘Ye Ye’ – not that that is a bad thing.)
The precursor to this and, other than Snaith’s day job, the reason this album is so anticipated is the already club-proven ‘Ne Noya’, which resurfaces on the frontend of this. Essentially a slab of Afrobeat, it’s been marinated in kaleidoscopic glimmering synth that recalls Emeralds’ marvelously mathematical 2010 album Does It Look Like I’m Here? Snaith’s magpie-like approach to global music picks up pace in ‘Pairs’, which welds Sub-Saharan polyrhythms to dark, brooding techno burps. In fact, there seem few sources Snaith won’t tap: ‘Light’ bubbles and zaps like an underwater laser battle in Gerry Anderson’s Stingray.
Where Caribou’s Swim was undoubtedly something of a paradigm shift for the band, both in terms of content and its reception, even stand-out killer turns such as ‘Sun’ were thrilling because of their potential, the glimpses of tunes they could be (the later remix album, even the giddy reworking of ‘Sun’ that appears on Foals’ recent Tapes, showing that there is always room for improvement). Jiaolong, meanwhile is a different prospect: confident in a way Caribou can’t be, and you wouldn’t want them to be. In short, Daphni has swag.