Up in Flames

Electronic music aesthetes have had their eye on Dan "Manitoba" Snaith since the DJ and producer first started releasing tracks on the Leaf label roughly three years back. For one thing, the dude's a mathematician (like, almost a Ph.D or something), and we all know math and music live in the same region of the brain. Number cruncher by day and Pro Tooler by night, Snaith established a rep with records such as 2001's Start Breaking My Heart, which featured delicate, almost tiptoeing IDM songs. More stimulating to mind than booty, his early work was pensive and fairly minimal; it was melodic, too, but not so much as to find an audience outside the chin-strokers. Now Snaith has upped the ante. Not content to keep his IDM animal caged up, he's recently cast off his pocket protector and horn-rimmed specs. The result is Up in Flames, a block-rockin' record smart enough to impress the cognoscenti while still managing to get the party started.

The album's first track, "I've Lived on a Dirt Road All My Life," spells out exactly what's in store for us: A slow storm of guitars and effects-heavy vocals pushes it into the kind of bass-heavy explosion that made the Chemical Brothers famous. And speaking of which, echoes of such techno giants as the Brothers and Fatboy Slim are all over this record. From the ethereal, reverb-heavy vocals of "Crayon" to the dizzyingly huge-sounding drums of "Kid You'll Move Mountains" to the sublime buildups on songs such as "Hendrix KO," Snaith seems to laugh in the face of critics who might criticize him for becoming too commercial.

Which is not to say a few Manitoba trademarks are not on display. With its twinkling xylophones and playful drums, "Crayon" gives us a few snapshots of Snaith's more bashful, wide-eyed worldview (there are even samples of laughing children). And on the whole, the record's dizzying array of noise, effects, beats, and blithers is an equation only a true human calculator could manage. But Up in Flames is an ebullient new direction for Snaith. It's not dumbed-down IDM or Moby-esque pop. It's big-beat electronica with a taste for gingko biloba. It's good and good for you.


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