I think about electronic dance LPs in the same way I think about baseball lineups. The opening track is equivalent to a leadoff hitter: great dance albums start quickly but don’t overwhelm with too much power. The job of the second track is to maintain momentum: in baseball terms, it moves the runner into scoring position. Around the ten-to-twelve minute mark is a dance record’s heart-of-the-order, its most memorable and high-energy tracks. From then on, songs need to preserve accumulated energy, wind down slowly but not too slowly, so as to position the lineup for another go-around.
That may sound too formulaic, but dance albums that deviate from this procedure tend to be less successful. Start off a dance album with too much volume or with too much throbbing bass, and it will be either monotonous or lethargic within fifteen minutes. Start too slowly, and the dancing will be half-hearted when it should be strongest.
With the nine tracks of Jiaolong, Daphni (a.k.a. Caribou a.k.a. Dan Snaith) keeps with common managerial wisdom. Opener “Yes I Know” paces the album beautifully. Whereas most of the songs written under the Daphni moniker resonate with artists like Four Tet and Matthew Dear—contemporary electronic musicians known more for their intricate and restrained song structures than for heavy dance tunes—“Yes I Know” channels the extroverted, sample-heavy house music of J Dilla. Second track “Ne Noya”—Daphni’s masterful remix of a yet-to-be-sourced African musician—sounds more like something DJ/rupture would create than anything Snaith has previously produced. But the highlight of the album is the third track, “Ye Ye,” one of the most flawlessly constructed dance tracks I’ve heard this year. Brooding and dark like the best of Oneohtrix Point Never, the song is propulsive without relying too heavily on either the bass or the drums. It’s the sort of track that most UK bass artists can only dream of.
After the first three tracks, however, Jiaolong stagnates. Daphni stops using vocal samples, preferring instead to focus on particular sonic whirls and synthesized atmospherics. The results are unexpectedly spare—this isn’t the Caribou of The Milk of Human Kindness—and the songs’ pace and volume become more ambient than dance-worthy. There are some gorgeous moments—e.g. the hook to “Light,” the looming whistle of “Ahora” and the swarming static of “Long”—but most songs slip in and out of consciousness. It often sounds as if Daphni is using his turntable as a crutch, improvising sounds as a DJ might during a live set, leading to music with some interesting minutiae but not enough narrative arcs to maintain attention.
For an artist who has just recently started to produce dance music, Snaith has already shown the talent and the vision necessary to create fresh and new-sounding rhythms. The transitions between tracks are done with the chops of a career DJ. Though Jiaolong doesn’t have enough material to always maintain interest—it doesn’t have enough talent to fill the bottom of the order—there’s enough here to justify Daphni as worthy of the big show.