The Detroit artist deftly moves beyond house.
Tala, too, is Daniel opening up to his audience. "It's an invitation to get to know me outside of DJing," he said. "I only have these conversations with me and my gear." These words touch on a defining aspect of his career so far: feeling musically misunderstood. Since he broke through in 2013, with the excellent Scorpio Rising EP on Sound Signature, he's been trying to distance himself from the house and techno tag—"I want to be referred to as a musician more so than a DJ," he told Resident Advisor's Kristan Caryl in 2015. (His grounds for doing so are legitimate: he began playing drums when he was three.) His 2016 debut album, Broken Knowz, was a bold step in that direction, a record light on club tracks and heavy on beat experiments. Tala, Daniel's first solo record since that LP, all but deletes the dance floor altogether. The results are strikingly beautiful.
In contrast to Broken Knowz, which varied in tone and mood, Tala is sonically cohesive. Wherever the needle lands, the atmosphere is bright, the air balmy and cloudless. Pick any cut at random and you'll get the same warm hug of live percussion, chirpy melody and organic sound design. But that's not to say the tracks lack individual character. The beauty of Tala is in Daniel's ability to experiment so freely within the record's sonic world. Each track is a tapestry of new sounds and ideas, particularly in terms of melody. On "Rapture," synths coil and fizz as though in the heat of a summer's day. On "Cherubim," they squeal and squiggle over hushed pads. And on "Aja," the LP's only four-on-the-floor house track, light-footed piano tunes snake between jazzy riffs. Tala is packed with glistening earworms, no two the same.
In that same RA interview, Daniel said he "mostly listens to jazz, because I feel like jazz is the most influential genre of music." Tala feels, in some ways, like a jazz record: the gentle pace, the aimlessness, the strong focus on melody. But, crucially, it never wanders into that jazziest of traps: overindulgent noodling. This is partly due to its succinct 37-minute runtime. But mostly it's the way the tracks are put together. Take the three standout cuts, "Sundance," "Lavanah" and the hidden "Imam." In each case, elements constantly drift in and out of view, never overstaying their welcome. On "Lavanah," a muted electric guitar riff mingles with the hazy swirl of sloping drums and twinkling melody. At one point, the riff slips away, soon replaced by a bassline purring to the same gorgeous tune. This deft approach makes Tala a rich and absorbing listen.