English DJ Daktyl, surprisingly Mad Decent’s first signee from the UK, enters the EDM scene at a time when the sound has been co-opted by everyone from Madonna to Japanese girl-group Morning Musume. EDM sells you cars, movies, video games, package vacations, watches, wallets, and every individual part of a complete breakfast — and, as it would be counterproductive for advertisers to go for new, potentially alienating sounds in their commercials, it’s those who play it safe that are currently reaping the rewards.
To merely toe the line and contribute yet another album that sounds enough like Calvin Harris or Zedd to get some sweet, sweet licensing lucre may not be artistically rewarding, but it’s hard to resist the allure of the kind of fat cheques that only come when Fortune 500 corporations’ names are on them. So, did he take the risk and make something new, or did he make an album of potential background music for a particularly trendy Nissan commercial?
Ultimately, he did a little of both. Cyclical features a diverse range of styles (all falling, of course, under the broad umbrella of “EDM”), but the restraint on display has all the unfortunate earmarks of a producer who doesn’t want to risk alienating anyone by going too far in any particular direction. Songs like “Haze” bear certain similarities to trap, but while they tease towards the genre’s massive drops, Daktyl never commits. The build/drop down/rebuild structure is the verse/chorus/verse of EDM, and while the album’s 11 tracks conform to this structure for the most part, the drops sound so restrained and muted that they often feel anticlimactic, like a power-pop group that’s made the bizarre decision to mumble an anthemic chorus instead of belting it out.
Ultimately, Daktyl the producer (as opposed to Daktyl the DJ, who’s just as in love with monster drops as anyone on the Ultra Festival lineup) is at his most comfortable when the atmosphere is whisper-thin, as on the airy, dreamlike R&B of late-album highlight “Temptress”. With guest vocalist Pillars’s softly cooed vocals and sparse percussion, the song is, at once, both out of step with the build-and-drop EDM it’s placed alongside, and so obviously inside Daktyl’s comfort zone that it’s surprising the rest of the album isn’t more like it. At times these songs feel like ghosts of the album that Daktyl wishes he was making instead, with the more straightforward dance tracks a handful of thrown bones to the fans who liked his DJ mixes and wouldn’t have bothered with the album unless they were present.
Each of these vocal tracks rank as high points on what is otherwise a profoundly middling album, all suggesting that, despite his DJ pedigree, making EDM isn’t actually Daktyl’s greatest strength as a producer. When he goes in for a drop, he pulls his punches; yet when it comes to hazy dream-pop, he goes all-in. While none of the guest performers put in particularly exceptional work (it pains me to imagine how much better any of these tracks could have been with Frank Ocean or The Weeknd on them), his production is rock-solid.
One can only hope that, when the time comes to put out his next LP, Daktyl won’t be afraid to stick to what he’s actually good at.