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Daedelus - Of Snowdonia

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Artist: Daedelus

Album: Of Snowdonia

Label: Plug Research

Review date: Dec. 2, 2004

Given the sheer volume of music that’s out there, it always remarkable when an artist establishes a distinguishable sound. San Francisco music-maker Daedelus, both with his playfully good-natured IDM releases and in his perhaps more dubious role as hip-hop producer, has developed a consistent and recognizable sonic identity all the more intriguing for its resistance to description.

Discerning and identifying each of the discrete sounds that turn up on Of Snowdonia – Daedelus’ third proper solo effort – is a daunting task. Although the electronic sounds in his productions – burbles, shy synth lines and programmed percussion – often have a thin or muted cast to them, this mostly lets them mingle with the crackly phonograph samples, vocal snippets (both sung and spoken) and legions of traditional “organic” instruments, many of which he plays himself: guitars, clarinets, accordions, vibraphones, saxophones, bells and chimes.

If there is a textural component to Daedelus’ distinctive sound, it relates to the generalized sense of audiophile nostalgia that pervades his music – from its source material to its outward character – making it at once wistful and naïve. Rather than presenting acoustic and analog sounds all spit-polished and digitized, he lets everything remain slightly murky and imprecise, the better for unlikely transpollinations to occur in the mud.

The brief but shining “Taking Wing,” for example, represents the well-intentioned but inexorably downhill struggle between consciousness and sleep. Amid analog crackles, distant choral murmuring, and de-sensed fragments of storytime narration, a languorous waltz-time piano lullaby starts up. Its dreamward tranquility is almost immediately disrupted by a jittery breakbeat, but as elements pile on, the peppiness grows unwieldy and the piano’s stubborn undertow drags the beat down into a languid bossa nova. This is interrupted with a couple of start-stop turntable jerks, as though the breakbeat were defiantly struggling to resurface. It does, briefly, before sputtering in the face of an unswerving piano waltz – now assisted by some disorienting buzzy electronics. The piano stands alone to find resolution amongst synth swells and digital detritus.

“Something Bells,” the album’s standout, similarly features a “conflict” of sorts between two rhythmically disparate elements: An electro-funky percussion track that falls somewhere in between a martial drum cadence and a vintage hip-hop break, and a borderline inane swingin’ chorus line, declaring, “now the time to sing is out / something bells can ring about.” The juxtaposition of two such perversely giddy and unlikely “combatants” is pretty funny in itself, but the track really distinguishes itself with a cleverly-plotted structure (occasional interludes of hypnotic, introspective classical guitar and meandering bleeps topped off with unexpected surges) and the differing energy between swing and straight time.

It‘s impressive how handily Daedelus employs this kind of juxtaposition as his central conceit without the compositions coming off as mere novelties. Still, a disappointing percentage of the tracks here never take off. The skittering Squarepusher beats on “Aim True,” for instance, never quite mesh with the song’s pensive guitar/accordion lament and claustrophobic strings. And nothing here matches “A Touch of Spring,” from last year’s The Quiet Party EP (where it was erroneously listed as from this then-forthcoming album.) As it stands, Of Snowdonia is still a pretty charming little dream world.

By K. Ross Hoffman

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