Review: Jay Daniel - Tala
Though born and raised in Maryland, DC, Daniel has a strong affinity with the sounds of the ‘Motor City’. The 27-year-old has been exposed to Planet-E Records from a young age by his mother, who lent her voice on a few Carl Craig tracks in the mid-90s.
Now an icon in the contemporary era of Detroit’s music scene, Daniel has been making waves through releases on Theo Parrish’s legendary Sound Signature records, Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats label, and his own, Watusi High, where Daniel has put out his latest release, ‘TALA’.
The 11-track, 37-minute follow up to his debut 2016 record further establishes the producer as one of the most prolific, innovative, forward-thinking artists to come out of the famed Motor City in recent years. On ‘TALA’, a name that derives from the Sanskrit word for ‘hand clapping’ and ‘musical time’, Daniel takes listeners on a very quiet, intimate journey through softer soundscapes in his own brand of “Hi-Tech Soul”.
Daniel has created an immaculately abstract album which soundtracks the art of passing the time and celebrates the simple beauty of inactivity. ‘TALA’ is most definitely an easy listening record: It is background music as much as it is an album to which you can sit down, listen closely, and become engrossed with over its entire duration. Sure, the release is shorter than many other full-length LPs, but Daniel’s attention to detail ensures he says absolutely everything he needs to say, gifting you some time to reflect as well.
The record is unapologetically dreamy: one moment you’re floating peacefully, surrounded by stars and the vibrant colours of the cosmos. The next minute, you’re nodding your head to the enticingly sweet grooves as you drive your stuttering Ford through the half empty, saturated streets of Detroit. That said, it is also a particularly bright and colourful record, not once giving a nod to the post-apocalyptic, harsh sounds of Detroit techno. Instead, it sounds much more organic, grounded and self-reflective, a possible reflection of how Daniel perceives his hometown today. Perhaps the days are gone when Detroit was full of dreamers, wishing the triumphs of the past would return, and now it is rather a contempt cohort of working citizens who have come to realise the rougher reality of their city. They have accepted and embraced it, instead using the nostalgia of the past era as inspiration for their lives today.
As I listen on the train as it pulls through North Melbourne station bound for Southern Cross, I cannot help but look out over the sparse, desolate, industrial outskirts of the city and think there would be no better place to listen to one of the opening cuts, ‘Lilith’. The spacey synths flow back and forth, ducking under the unorthodox, captivating, mismatched drum beat. The idea, whilst simple, is beautifully executed. A variety of textures fade in and out to compliment the rhythms: a quiet, near out of time bassline, and a moog-inspired, spacey melody that comes and goes in an instant. Finally, a simple analogue keyboard jam fades in, as everything else goes quiet. Daniel has carefully structured the record so that it stays characteristically lo-fi and intimate: never allowing the cuts to become overly busy with noise, but filling them with varying elements so that all the flashing lights are there, they just never come all at once.
An oddity in today’s digital world, the record emphasises the engineering of analogue sound, perfecting every single element to create a textural, full-bodied work that is quite frankly a pleasure to listen to. Each track places something different in the spotlight, the complementing sounds assuming both a part of the spotlight and an accompaniment. Take the hazy, ringing, gong-like keys on ‘Sundance’; the punchy, driving kickdrum on ‘Cherubim’; or the tribal beat of a Djembe on ‘Aja’ – all elements that take centre stage and are augmented by the accompanying instruments.
Put simply, the album is a beautifully scored, quiet and authentic soundtrack to any individual of the modern-day city. It’s an abstract work of art that chronicles the art of boredom and emptiness within a place where things are supposedly happening all the time. The tracks, conceptual and oozing with influences of jazz, soul, funk and afrobeat – but never drawing excessively from them – cement Jay’s productions as timeless. TALA is an instant classic, and its importance in a city with so much musical history ensures that Daniel’s beautiful artwork will be inspiration for the sound of tomorrow.