Review Summary: The Less You Know, The Better sadly lives up to its name, where parts of the record border on the fantastic, but the rest just does its owner's name a great disservice
There really isn't a great deal to be said about Josh Davis (better known to the world as DJ Shadow) that hasn't been talked about at great length already; he was the man who redefined instrumental hip hop music, and defined
trip hop in one fell swoop. And just as Endtroducing...
became the stuff of legend, so too has the rest of his career, as everything else that's bore his name has spent their time almost reluctantly trying to step out of his debut's all-encompassing shadow. And sure, both The Private Press
and The Outsider
were met with some degree of critical acclaim (as we always knew that they would), but they were also early nails in the coffin of Shadow's career, hammered in by detractors confused by the direction this artist had decided to head in. Which is confusing, given that Shadow has never really had a clear direction in mind. His music is the result of a hundred jigsaw puzzles loosely taped together in order to create some level of cohesion, but for a man who works from the remains of others Davis' scope and reach ultimately becomes limitless, because there is no blueprint to work from, just the entries of others to gleefully pilfer from. So we can criticize him for not making an Endtroducing
part 2, but would we really have commended such a simple compromise? No, we applauded an artist who could dive into any scene and apply his findings into something wholly different, and yet make it work so well. Someone who could create atmosphere from disjointed and haphazard backgrounds and make it seem more than just natural. No, he made us believe that they were always meant to be together, distant cousins finally reunited.
So all we can really hold against Davis is that perhaps he waded into waters that we
weren't comfortable with, we forget that he's a sampler and a dj. That means he holds all the keys to all the doors and goes where he pleases; anyone wanting that long awaited follow-up to his seminal debut only needs to check out his storied history with Cut Chemist if they wish to bathe in distant memories. Shadow's albums have always worked like photo albums, each song a snapshot of a certain sound or a particular decade's worth of music that long ago earned its right to be included in the history and evolution of music as a whole. And sometimes they act as statements by the artist himself, wherein they play out like Davis' own take on any current new fad, sliced and diced in his own unique way. Think of his work like a collage; some parts feel like they don't belong but tied into the bigger picture and you'll see how comfortably they fit in. This, of course, all begs the question as to whether or not Shadow is actually a true artist, or whether he's just another mixer fluent in cutting and pasting. This also makes him extremely difficult to truly understand, as it's almost impossible to pinpoint the feelings and motivations of someone who chooses to speak through others. But what is obvious however, is that The Less You Know, The Better
is the safest thing Josh Davis has ever committed to wax.
If "expect the unexpected" is the motto that Shadow has chosen to live by, then TLYK,TB
is again another surprising entry into the dj's catalog, but for all the wrong reasons. It's another solid outing, but it's also very by-the-numbers, surprising because of its lack
of surprise. It's a subdued Shadow at work here, his cards pulled close to his chest and sounding as if he's doing everything within his vast powers to appease as many listeners as possible. In fact it plays so safe that it almost doesn't really sound like Davis at all; there's nothing here that couldn't have been assembled by any number of cut-and-hack artists (albeit talented ones). Nothing stands out as revolutionary or sounds as gifted as anything off any of his previous albums; which perhaps is unjustified given the man's illustrious discography, but if anything this rings out more as a testament to the talents that's he's only been too willing to show off in the past than anything else. In the past his works have always been hypnotizing with their deja vu like qualities, the many samples playing against us as we feel like we're experiencing something revelatory all over again. Here it's a much more simple process involving one man taking a guitar lick here and applying it to percussion stolen from over there and pressing play. It almost feels as if he's finally decided to construct original music for the first time without assistance from his (rumored to be in the tens of thousands) vinyl collection, and without their extra padding the album unfortunately falters without the comforting nostalgic facade.
The album still plays out like a tour de force though from a man comfortable with assuming almost any identity. TLYK,TB
careens at breakneck pace through chainsaw-like heavy metal riffs ('Border Crossing'), taps into the zeitgeist of 80's synth rock ('Warning Call'); it sets up an album highlight in 'Enemy Lines' by soldering a connection between psychedelic progressive rock and shuffling tripped out percussion, and provides a rather interesting entry with 'Come On Riding (Through The Cosmos)' when it tries to go all Led Zeppelin rock on us. In fact, outside of the rave nightmare of 'Def Surrounds Us', it's when Shadow almost completely removes himself from anything resembling electronic or hip hop music that he actually comes out on top. It's in these moments where he shows us that old flair and spark that made us sit up and take notice of him in the first place, his most recognizable work here is the stuff that stops this from being another critical adoration (perhaps because we are too busy comparing them to certain greater works). For those of you who ever hoped for a definitive sequel to Shadow's masterwork.... well, keep searching. But this is the closest you're ever likely to come, not in terms of quality but in sound
. Unfortunately however, The Less You Know, The Better
lives up to its name, where parts of the record border on the fantastic, but the rest just does its owner's name a great disservice.