Denies the Day’s Demise
t’s no coincidence that Daedelus re-appropriated Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo artwork (with some adaptation by his partner Laura Darling) for the cover and liner notes for his fifth album, Daedelus Denies the Day’s Demise. The Nemo we see is driving a peacock chariot, bearing the unmistakable mop-top and mutton-chops of our hero Daedelus, traveling through his dreams in an uncertain and perilous quest for illumination. Much like McCay is recognized for the imaginative, surreal worlds he dreams up for young Nemo, Daedelus has been lauded since Plug Research’s 2001 Invention for the dreamy, childlike qualities he brings to his compositions. What’s surprising this time out is the vividness with which Daedelus is still able to express his view of the world and communicate the emerging complexity of his compositions.
As one of the artists to come out of the pioneering Dublab collective in L.A., Daedelus has developed his career in experimental electronics by composing beats and abstract synth lines on top of show tune, big band, and string ensemble samples from the 30s through 50s. Invention established Daedelus in this space and also kicked off a series of collaborations with talented (though self-conscious) rapper Busdriver. Since then, a good chunk of Daedelus’s work has either featured guest rappers (2005’s Exquisite Corpse featured MF Doom, Prefuse 73, Mike Ladd, and others), involved hip-hop production (the Busdriver and Radioinactive collaboration The Weather), or exhibited a marked hip-hop influence (A Gent Agent and Of Snowdonia).
Daedelus’s collaborations and production work have allowed him to shine as an experimental hip-hop artist, though his contributions on that front always seem to be more like Daedelus Lite: take a circa 1944 string sample, throw a glitch beat on top, and get a suitably cerebral rapper to spit over it. Likewise, in his solo work since Invention, it has not always been clear what he intends to do besides add a vaguely archaic feel to melodic glitch. With Denies the Day’s Demise, the prolific sampler’s aims become a little more apparent.
It’s old-school Daedelus: no collaborations, no guest vocalists, and in fact, no hip-hop. Instead, a Latin, techno, and electro sound comes through, all the more impressive considering the relative dearth of samples that actually come from these sources. Take the opener, “At My Heels”: the track is largely a disembodied cut-up of a grizzled narrator, set to 40s-movie strings, funk bass, and a breakbeat, but the effect of all the elements taken together is that of a heavy bossa nova built from very un-bossa nova parts. Similarly, in “Lights Out” Daedelus takes a piece of Stereolab’s spacey “Pop Quiz,” and by teasing out the percussive elements of the sample’s melody, he turns it into a playful samba. Daedelus does with electronic and Latin music here what he and others have already done with experimental hip-hop: boiling genre to an essence and re-imagining it with novel or illuminating instrumentation.
It’s easy to see further parallels between Daedelus and Nemo as the album goes on: For Daedelus, music is memory, and in the jumbled filter of dream-space, his compositions are apparitions roughly composed of those memories (his samples and instrumentation) which themselves can have a history totally unlike that which they represent. Like Nemo’s dream-worlds, Daedelus’s soundcapes descend into surreal and almost dangerous chaos, as with the bright “Like Clockwork Springs,” an upbeat techno track that constantly risks being engulfed by a sinister bassline. However, his explorations often retain an innocence that seems to slip into and out of coherence.
With Denies the Day’s Demise, Daedelus has applied his approach most closely to concept, effectively linking his pastiche compositions to the skittering logic of dreamscapes. Daedelus’s deconstructionist works of abstract Latin and techno are like an inventor building clockwork humans from steam machinery, and while his creations only roughly match the forms of their inspirations, his charm and touch gives them an endearing humanity suitable for the most enchanting of Edwardian fantasies.