It’s hard to mention Dan Snaith without reference to the work of his friends and collaborators Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) and Sam Shepherd (Floating Points). Like those musicians, Snaith is a committed DJ as well as musician, and has oscillated in his relatively long career between studio deconstructions of hip hop/funk/soul/pop (as Caribou) and a serious commitment to the apparently more functionalist world of dance music (as Daphni). Yet, anyone who’s followed the output of Four Tet and Floating Points will know that their supposedly club-ready singles and more contemplative albums are increasingly indistinguishable as such: it’s difficult for these prodigious sampleologists, it would seem, to keep only one foot exclusively on the dancefloor.
Similarly, while Snaith nominally differentiates between these two worlds with his twin aliases, his last album as Caribou often sounded less like its predecessors and more like his 2012 debut as Daphni; the heft of ‘Mars’, in particular, would have fit neatly in between any of the wonky grooves on ‘Jiaolong’.
And the same is true of ‘Joli Mai’. In spite of its tracks’ solid bass architecture and purpose-built mixability, this is head music as well as body music. It might have become a cliché to discuss dance music in these terms, but this is in no small part thanks to the producers already mentioned here. (Despite the cumulative decades of their output on respectable dance labels, these musicians’ hybrid releases still inevitably attract scorn from more puritanical ‘headz’ on the techno forums of Resident Advisor and elsewhere.)
So, unsurprisingly, the twelve tracks on offer here are as well-versed in the craft of dance-floor dynamics as they are melodically rich and expertly shaped into a perfectly coherent narrative — a narrative in which the mixologist’s ‘journey’ and artist’s ‘curation’ work together harmoniously.
As a prime example, the hypnotic, dubbed-out Bollywood shapes of ‘Vikram’ give way abruptly to the boshing, four-to-the-floor intro to ‘Tin’. 'Joli Mai’s most chart-friendly moment, the track sounds increasingly like a house-ified edit of ‘Second Chance’ — one of the most downtempo moments on Caribou’s 2014 LP, ‘Our Love’, which was widely derided by techno-evangelists for its full embrace of crystalline pop. Where the staccato synths of ‘Second Chance’ groaned under the weight of Jessy Lanza’s breathy vocal, a similar combination here swells languorously even as it cuts and jumps between bars like an overexcited DJ on the EQ controls. This is partly a trick of Snaith’s percussive mastery: the drums on ’Tin’ propel its clipped vocal samples and chord sequences every which way — at turns flipping from 2-step grooviness through soaring, meditative breakdowns, finally pulling the rug out on an orgy of djembe-like syncopation.
In this way, Snaith’s role as disco puppet-master becomes almost a narrative feature of ‘Joli Mai’ as somehow an electronic pop record about dance music. Almost all of its tracks originally appeared in truncated forms on Daphni’s recent FABRICLIVE mix, and the purpose-built nature of some of those cuts is largely retained. For example, the super-dry, bare bones funk of ‘Face to Face’ and the explosive warehouse minimalism of ‘Hey Drum’ are both stretched out to little added effect other than running time. And the record’s last third maintains the most consistently housey energy. But even those tracks are given so much more space to breathe that their progressions reach much more meditative proportions. The pulsating breakdown of ‘Medellin’ serves particularly well both as the euphoric swell before its last, needle-sharp drop, and also at the macro-level of breaking up the album’s taughtness with its disarming warmth.
Even the album’s determinedly floor-filling monsters are here given so much more structural complexity that they much better reward close listening. ‘The Truth’ — which at three minutes seemed to rush in the last few surprises of Daphni’s FABRICLIVE — unfurls at full length into several shades of club-ready monster, its initially sparse groove launched head-first through big room house, trance and stomping UK garage. And the shuddering groove of ‘Xiang Tian’ — which in the mix did little more than neatly switch timbre — here rumbles organically into colossal proportions with the same unsuspecting precision that defined Four Tet’s ‘Love Cry’. Like that surprise club hit, these are tracks rippling with as much textural detail as sensorial punch.
‘Joli Mai' plays at this oddly meta-level to DJing and club culture. As if hammering this home, Snaith bookends the record with ‘Poly’ and ‘Life’s What You Make It’ by slowly and deliberately bending the pitch. Ambiguously a studio effect or the simple easing up of a turntable’s pitch slider, the image of each track seems to waft dreamily back and forth between finished product and white label 12”, set upon Snaith’s tentative spindles. At once a relatively pragmatic re-release of already heard material and the satisfying conclusion to its previous flirtations, ‘Joli Mai’ is a hybrid: part-album, part DJ-toolbox — and totally playable, in any context.
Words: Callum McLean
- - -
- - -