Exquisite Corpse is indeed that, a series of deft transitions between completely different handlings. Just as the Surrealists invented the term for a way of collaborating on a single artwork (drawing something and hiding it above the fold of the paper with just the tail lines showing for the next artist to begin with, and so on until the drawing is done), Daedelus has patched together the music of the world into an eccentric and discordant whole. The opening track, “Dear Departed”, is as good an example as any, blending a hip-hop beat seamlessly with a musical that turns into a fragment of noise and finally ends with a simple jazz organ. This is the Daedelus style, to make contrast the focus, and a surprise at every bend.
“Impending Doom” is a bossa-nova freak-out with MF Doom, runner-up (against Bun B.) for title of Guest Rapper Extraordinaire, on the mic, gunning it down with the rhyming fury he seems able to deliver in a half-sleep: cool, quick, and hitting you before you knew he was awake. “Just Briefly” is an Esquivel song buried under layers of rust, a comment on the degradation of music in the age of P2P? There is Wu-inspired cinemascope in “Move On”, but we’re not on foot through the gutters; this is a pagoda cruise down a flower-lined river guarded by deadly ninjas, and your guide is the rapper Sci, who isn’t afraid of sword swamples or flimsy flute neither. He’s just going to rap in his Native Tongues, and hope for the best.
“Now & Sleep” is Mom’s piano lullaby turning into the nightmarish gleam of a hit of Aphex acid, and “The Crippled Hand” does much the same thing again, before Prefuse 73 offers Daedelus help coming down from the trip, feeding him steady on hip-hop breaks and lulling him into that patty-cake rhythm—Scott Heren does it so well. “Cadavre Exquis” is a cute, skittering bit of reggaeton “avec TTC,” whoever they may be; they are French. “Drops” takes the rapper Cyne on a nostalgic trip over a jazzy break. And by now the album’s half over and things seem to be on course. The pleasures of the album are all available and so are the flaws. An MF Doom track is sure to be worth hearing, but it often feels like the instrumentals are becoming really long segues into the rap collaborations, and the unfortunate thing there is that not all the guests are as hot off the mic as Doom, and the whole project begins to feel a little rootless. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case, ambient isn’t the point. And yet sonically, there is a lot of repetition (“Welcome Home” could be a different mix of “Now And Sleep”, for example), so the album’s caught between wanting our attention and not wanting to distract us from our lives. It is a mellowness that I suspect is born of indecision. I think this sensibility makes this album good without ever being memorable, the way a person can be polite, but not charismatic, not someone you’re all that excited to meet again.
There’s a humbleness to that attitude you can’t argue with, but Daedelus’s talents are greater than he thinks, and so you hope he’ll come out of his shell a bit more next time and really impress us all. The Surrealist technique from which Daedelus draws his album’s title was a kind of parlour game for high intellects. I hope there’s going to be an avant-garde masterpiece from Daedelus, too. He’s doing all the right things, now he’s just got to do them with total conviction.