Something of a return to form – just don’t expect an Endtroducing beater.
Ian Wade 2011-09-26
DJ Shadow – aka Josh Davis – emerged during the last decade of the 20th century, helping to bring the art of turntablism to a new crowd outside of the hip hop arena. And didn’t he do well. His debut, 1996’s Endtroducing, is a disc which stands alone, towering above any potential parallels from would-be peers. Seriously, if Davis had never made it to a second LP, it would have been fine – with his first attempt, the man created a classic, confirming his status as a legend with what remains the final word in crate-digging genius.
When a follow-up did arrive, in the form of 2002’s The Private Press, it initially sounded like Davis had perhaps been too distracted by his work on UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction LP, released in 1998, resulting in a less-instant, less-impressive collection. But given time, his second record seeped into the senses, ultimately revealing itself as a slow-burn wonder. But album three was a different matter: 2006’s The Outsider pushed the patience of the firmest supporter, adding neither light nor tunes to Shadow’s catalogue.
So, what now? Davis is in a nothing-left-to-lose situation to regain lost ground, and on The Less You Know, the Better it seems like he’s on his way back from the tune-free abyss. Memorable melodies in check, he’s railing against the all-pervasiveness of technology: it’s either sent the listener lazy, or denying him of a decent return on his investments back in the sample-heady haze of the 90s.
Highlights of this set include the very lovely Sad and Lonely, on which a female voice emotes from yore about the fecklessness of young men over a piano which recalls Carole King’s Tapestry. Less successfully, Davis tries to reinvent Tom Vek as Billy-Idol-doing-White-Wedding on Warning Call, and it doesn’t do either party any favours. Collaborators du jour Little Dragon shed lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano for the track Scale It Back, on which the singer elevates proceedings in a Prince-like fashion, while De La Soul’s Posdnuos is joined by Talib Kweli to pleasingly old-school up Stay the Course.
Davis is a great and nifty producer, more in his element working on collages and atmospheres than acting at being a rock star – something his massive highs of the 1990s may have led him to believe he was. The Less You Know, the Better isn’t a bad album at all, and will likely grow into something far more impressive, something that isn’t quite evident on first play. Like The Private Press, it could be one the listener returns to down the line and wonders how it didn’t initially click. But however excellent this set may prove to be, it will only ever stand in the vast, well, shadow that its creator has cast since releasing the unprecedented Endtroducing.