Category Archives: DJ Shadow
DJ Shadow – The Less You Know, The Better
Unfair as it is, Josh Davis (a.k.a. DJ Shadow) will always live in the, well, shadow of 1996’s Endtroducing….., his peerless, groundbreaking debut. It’s what all his subsequent work has been compared to and, most likely, will continue to be compared to. Because of this, The Private Press, which generally stuck to Endtroducing…..‘s formula, was received well by critics and fans, while The Outsider, which ventured into more conventional hip-hop territory, tended to occasion mixed and negative reactions. Most of the reason for The Outsider‘s reaction, though, was because it was seen as a garbled mess upon its release, trying too many things at once. It seems as if he was in need of some corrective steering, and, sure enough, Davis’ follow-up, 2011’s The Less You Know, The Better, delivers just that. It reigns in The Outsider‘s all-over-the-map jumble, while still remaining eclectic. It’s a return-to-form, but it avoids leaning too hard on Endtroducing…... In short, it’s the album that should have followed The Private Press.
That being said, The Less You Know isn’t up to the same standards of Davis’ best work, so this many end up disappointing those of Shadow’s faithful who have been eagerly anticipating another masterpiece. But that’s okay because this album is still quite enjoyable on its own terms, and just like all Shadow records, it becomes better and better upon repeated plays. There’s still the jazz, funk, soul, ambient and rock samples culled from long-forgotten sources, but they aren’t twisted together as often, even if it makes Davis’ style no less instantly recognizable. Rather than layer genres on top of each other, Davis keeps the songs short and distinct, often working a mood and then moving on to something different on the next track. There are guitar-heavy rock tracks (“Border Crossing,” “Warning Call,” “I Gotta Rokk”), swooning ballads (“Redeemed,” “Sad and Lonely,” “(Not So) Sad and Lonely”), Eno-tinged atmosphere-builders (“Give Me Back The Nights,” “Tedium”), and “Stay The Course,” a bouncing rap track featuring Talib Kweli and De La Soul’s Posdnuos. The album moves at an easy, unhurried pace, and since the music is relatively uncomplicated (at least, by Shadow’s standards), it helps that many songs feature vocal samples, giving some structure to the fluid beats. Though there aren’t any real missteps (though a chunk of the beats unfortunately settle into basic repetition and aimless groove), The Less You Know, on a whole, lacks cohesion. A few songs, such as “Sad and Lonely” and “Give Me Back The Nights” build up such a wonderful atmosphere that the sudden shift to a hard-driving rock song is a disappointment, especially since one of Davis’ gifts is his mastery of mood. It may seem like a minor flaw, but it actually hurts the album more than it should: the songs are already shorter than the average Shadow track, so not only does the music have less time to sink into your skull but the flow of the record is disjointed. It’s enough to keep The Less You Know, The Better from being a shining moment in Davis’ catalog, though there’s enough quality material here to satiate hungry fans who have clamoring to hear another DJ Shadow studio album. Hopefully it won’t be another six years before we hear from him again.