Righteous Fists of Harmony

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Though Daedelus has never been one to follow any path but his own, his output over the years has traced a clear if gradual trajectory toward more overtly beat-driven and pop-oriented (or, at least, vocally inclined) material. In that sense, Righteous Fists of Harmony -- a mini-album released on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint -- marks an abrupt retreat, a sharp departure from the candy-coated dance party of 2008's Love to Make Music To. In fact, it's closer to the gently wistful, sepia-toned IDM of his 2002 debut, Invention, than virtually anything he's issued since. Longtime fans will appreciate the return to the familiar, distinctive timbral palette of his early releases; a lush, musty blend of organic elements (bass clarinet, flute, classical guitar, and creakily treacly strings employed to especially dreamy effect on cinemascope closer "Fin de SiƩcle") with electronics (reedy synths, muddled-up programmed percussion) that somehow feel just as fusty and antediluvian. True to his nature, Daedelus hasn't just gone about exhuming the sounds of the past (his own and otherwise) without a well-thought-out reason for doing so: Fists is a concept album, themed broadly around the modernist struggle between technology and imagination (which might have come across more strikingly if Daedelus' juxtaposition of organic and electronic sounds weren't so habitual and effortlessly fluid), but more specifically, around the illustrative example of China's turn-of-the-20th-century Boxer Uprising, wherein a band of martial artists, believing themselves to have magical powers, rose up against British imperial rule only to be crushed by technologically advanced weaponry (the album's marvelous title is a translation of the Boxers' name for themselves). It's not too hard to hear these ideas playing out in the music, over half of which is instrumental: Daedelus has no problem conjuring up a suitably nostalgic, wanly hopeful air or the sense of a distant historical setting (though it's too bad he didn't take the opportunity to experiment with Chinese instrumentation). "The Finishing of a Thing," in particular, is unmistakably programmatic, its measured, stately fanfare summarily swallowed in a chaotic surge of speed and sound. Three highly subdued vocal cuts don't necessarily augment the concept -- "Order of the Golden Dawn" (named for a contemporaneous but unrelated British mystical society) finds Laura Darlington (the producer's wife and Daedelus/Flying Lotus vocal mainstay) sleepily intoning the words "Boxer Rebellion" -- but they hardly disrupt the mood. While it may not rank among Daedelus' grandest or most musically distinctive works, Fists is a typically satisfying treatment of an inspired, intriguing premise.

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