Daphni, the more dance-oriented project of Caribou's Dan Snaith, is bold and direct where his main project is intricate and subtle. While the different name lets Snaith's fans know not to expect more Caribou, on Jiaolong it's still kind of remarkable just how different his approach is. With samples aplenty, raw-sounding keyboards, and looped beats, Daphni deals in a very simple, roots-based kind of dance music. Given how elaborate Caribou's music can be, stripping things back as much as Snaith does on Jiaolong is probably a big part of the challenge -- and appeal -- of the project on his part. He also made the album partly in response to what he saw as a glut of uninspired dance music in the 2010s, and while Daphni isn't necessarily an alternative to bad EDM, it might be an antidote to it: tracks such as "Springs" hark back to a day when synths went woop-woop-woop instead of wub-wub-wub, and the splashy reverb and drum rolls evoke dub instead of dubstep. For the most part, Jiaolong features exercises in linear repetition, addition, and subtraction that boast grooves so relentless they could bore holes in the dancefloor, for better or worse. Album-opener "Yes I Know" mixes punchy brass, a soul music sample, a four-on-the-floor house beat, and lots of filter tweaking into something that's as catchy as it is kinetic, while tracks such as "Ye Ye" take this hypnotic repetition so far that they make heads nod and feet move out of sheer reflexive response, like the musical equivalent of tapping a knee with a rubber mallet. However, Snaith doesn't give up subtlety entirely on Jiaolong, as the tiny differences from track to track reveal. He alternates between more serious, groove-driven songs and more playful ones like "Light," which, with its flute loops and oddly harmonized keyboards, is more experimental than danceable despite its undeniable beat (and it also has more movement than many of the other songs here). Likewise, the mix of faux-exotic rhythms and cheap 'n' cheerful synth tones on "Pairs," and the herky-jerky funk of "Jiao" add some whimsy, calling to mind a particularly inspired use of presets on a vintage keyboard. "Ahora," meanwhile, turns Jiaolong's trance-inducing vibe into a sleek nighttime cityscape with a distant melody that sounds like whistling in the dark. What makes this album surprisingly challenging is the fact that these songs are all fairly lengthy excursions, and sometimes things are so spare that they just aren't as interesting as they could be. At their best, Daphni and Jiaolong definitely have a vitality that some dance music -- and even some of Snaith's other work -- lacks, but its hyper-simple approach actually makes it more challenging to appreciate than something with a few more flourishes might have been.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares