Review Summary: Snaith kindles a genre-splicing fire
Historically, complainers left in dismal conditions over an extended period of time tend to use aggressive, hostile actions to bring about a change in their condition, whether these actions are directed at themselves or at others. The events of new countries being formed or slaves being freed can often find a spark of ignition in the initially considered negative acts of complainers when examined in retrospect; apparently killing, stealing, and rebelling can indeed breed new life, ironic as it may be. But not all complainers expel negative, built-up energy through an outlet on the outside. Some direct the tension inward to fuel a creative, inward vehicle, revealing a palette for them from which to work, kindling a flame of innovation amidst the harshest of winters.
One such Daniel Snaith is a complainer turned innovator, so to speak. The London-based electronic musician was always hard to please, whether it came to his own work or that of the current state of electronic music in 2002. Sure, Radiohead
was doing some pretty radical things with their electronic-founded experimental rock, and yes, maybe Fennesz
had finally mastered the glitch with Endless Summer
, but there wasn’t all that much new or seemingly fresh
in the genre - or at least enough to please Snaith anyway. Such tension for the twenty-four-year-old could have been attributed to the good, yet passive response to his 2001 debut album under the name of Manitoba, Start Breaking My Heart
. Reviews were full of Boards Of Canada
and Four Tet
–isms with detailings of cool but unfocused niceties. The problem with Snaith's previous work was that he was too indebted to the craftings of genre staples - or in Four Tet
’s Kieren Hebden’s case, the craftings of his own friend.
Snaith needed something to distinguish himself in his craft; Snaith needed Up in Flames
. Ironically titled, his 2003 sophomore release saved his career as an electronic musician - or, at least, it saved him from being lost in the crowd
. Using the same “shitty
” laptop setup that he tinkered with to bring into being his middle-of-the-road debut, Snaith went about the task of throwing everything from 60s sunshine pop and electronic tapestries to acoustic guitars and Mercury Rev
-patented neo-psychedelia to make an absolutely magnificent album, free of wayward bumps and lacking-in-finesse transitions. Indeed, one of the most mind-boggling characteristics of Up in Flames
is its seamless cohesion: the ride is always varied and exciting all the way through, yet it constantly remains on task and never steps out of line to jar you. Layers upon layers are stacked so well together that it’s hard to tell exactly what is a real instrument here and what exactly Snaith has stolen from his thirty-plus-year-old albums.
The pop aspect of Up in Flames
does in fact owe a lot of its crafting to Mercury Rev
’s work in the 1990s and the then-current The Flaming Lips
of 2002; but as far as the mixing of the sunshine, golden hooks goes, Snaith is in his own league here. Unlike a lot of his current work under the name of Caribou
, Up in Flames
allows Snaith to flow as if unbounded by conventional songwriting: though “Hendrix With Ko” and “Jacknuggeted” are the easy pop stand-outs, if you must call them that, neither bothers with any verse-chorus structure; and as with the remainder of Up In Flames
, each is able to turn tables by falling to resonating hand-claps or expanding into a surge of electronic, acoustic guitar-led energy with ease. Exemplified by the album in full, this self-described “freestyling layers of experimentation with a melodic sensibility
" works to make the vocals of collaborator Koushik Ghosh an extra foundation to the instrumental/samplings, as opposed to being just an outlet for catchy melodies. You see, when Up in Flames
moves, it takes everything in its palette with it; nothing is left behind, including the listener.
With Up in Flames
, Snaith kindled a genre-splicing fire with a profound effect: yes, something interesting and new could actually be done with electronic music, all without the problems such a collision of material should have brought just by expectation. This is the strength of what Snaith has done here: his innovation lies in how well he’s able to trick
us into accepting his splicing of 60s albums and his borrowing of current production techniques for a fresh, new sound. Up in Flames
was collectively something innovative upon its release in 2003. And since that time seven years ago, nobody has been able to achieve that same level of electronic-psychedelic breeding success like Snaith has - himself included. Up in Flames
kindled a light in the room of darkness that was the electronic genre - at least as Snaith saw it. First, he complained, he innovated, and then he made one of last decade's best albums, finding in the process that spark he had for so long been seeking after.