DJ Shadow's The Less You Know The Better: A First Listen

Categories: First Listens

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Let's get this out of the way right from the off: DJ Shadow's fourth solo studio album, The Less You Know The Better, won't finally stop long-time fans from requesting that he makes a true sequel to 1996's Endtroducing. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. (I usually don't have the patience to listen to instrumental hip-hop without soon ditching the track in question, after I realize all I really want to hear is M.O.P. shout-rap their way through a song sprinkled with gun noises). But Shadow is an astute collager and cut-and-paste student, and anyone who once homaged a Steinski record deserves an open-minded listen. So here goes -- with the revised tracklist provided literally minutes ago by Shadow's publicity team. The Less You Know the Better hits the streets Oct. 4.

"Back To Front"
"I'm back -- I forgot my drum." So opens the sampled dialogue that kicks things off. The rest of the curt, two-and-a-half minute opener flirts with those who are still wishing for Shadow to revisit his Endtroducing era, being that this is straight-up break-beats, oddball samples and scratching business. You could probably safely label it "Vintage Shadow."

"Border Crossing"
And just like that we're out of the comfort zone, as crunching guitars and crashing drums herald a coarser dimension to the album. The layered double-time cymbal section adds depth to the track, making this the type of song you'd imagine white, middle-aged hip-hop car fanatics going driving to. Calling Ad Rock for a vocal remix!

"Stay The Course"
Oh, and now we're back in rappity rap land! Perky drums, rolling bass-line, and guest raps from De La Soul's Posdnuos and Talib Kweli. The song does what it's meant to do, being vaguely positive phrased raps allied to a beat that will not offend anyone who ever bought a record put out on the Quannum label. Pos rap immaculate as usual, but Talib Kweli's voice is still the most insufferable in all of hip-hop.

"I've Been Trying"
Yup, now it's the turn of a song with guitars in it again! This time it's melancholic acoustic strumming, with a male-voiced lament about how "I've been trying to get you to love me." There's a flute riff in the middle of the song that you could lie about and claim was sampled from Blue Note flautist Bobbi Humphrey. The whole thing is definitely UNKLE-esque, and gets bonus ambient points for ending with the sound of a train passing in the night.

"Sad And Lonely"
Simple, metronomic piano keys and suitably wailing violin bed a pining female voice that weeps, "I'm sad and I'm lonely/ My heart it will break/ My sweetheart loves another/ Lord I wish I was dead." Which sounds more like a Dolly Parton lyric when you transcribe it than it actually is. This is one to put on that autumn playlist you keep meaning to get around to making.

"Warning Call"
Hey, it's the one featuring Tom Vex brooding all over the track! The production is equal parts up-tempo and defiantly moody, although lyrics like, "Working out what happened to everything you learned in school/ You don't remember them telling you but it's cool to be you," possibly sound like they were penned at the behest of some anti-teen-suicide pressure group.

"Tedium"
Titled after Shadow's pet-name for Talib Kweli -- just joking! -- this is airy instrumental business, sometimes embellished with echo-chamber effects and at times ushering in short snatches of piano notes. It's probably meant to sound like the sort of thing people who live in self-imposed isolation on the tops of mountains meditate to.

"Enemy Lines"
This is the album's attempt at crafting some sort of sonic soundscape, being all slow-rolling beat and atmospheric synth lines. But at nearly six minutes long, it's gonna have to be quite the epic futuristic cowboy battle you're envisioning in your head if you're to resist the urge to skip after the three-minute mark. (Spoiler: It doesn't really go anywhere.)

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