words by Craig Mertes
I absolutely hate it when an artist’s previous work ends up being the benchmark for their work going forward and the ultimate comparison for all of their new work. It doesn’t seem fair to the artist and frankly, seems a little bit lazy on the reviewer’s part. Now, that’s exactly what I’m going to do here, but I don’t care for it. In the case of DJ Shadow, Entroducing… is his preeminent work and its place in modern music history pretty much makes it impossible not to use as a reference not only for DJ Shadow’s own work but even for artists working in other genres.
For those that love Entroducing… the other problem is that DJ Shadow has not yet been able to hit the dizzying heights that he did on that particular album — which is both understandable (as it is an amazing, once in a lifetime piece of work) and frustrating (he had it in him once, and we all wish for that feeling of hearing Entroducing… for the first time again). DJ Shadow has approached the greatness he displayed on Entroducing… specifically, on The Private Press, but he did so in small increments that were not able to be sustained throughout the entire album. Boiled down, I think the issue has been atmosphere.
Entroducing… oozed atmosphere: dark, moody, sprawling, brooding atmosphere. The Less You Know, The Better falls into the same category as The Private Press, where portions of the album suck the listener into the atmosphere of the album (“Enemy Lines,” “Going Nowhere,” Redeemed” and “Run For Your Life” all in order) and others leave one out in the cold wondering what happened (immediately following “Give Me Back the Nights”). “Stay the Course” featuring Talib Kweli and Posdnuous) is some of the best straightforward hip-hop that DJ Shadow has produced. “Scale it Back” features Little Dragon and is a downbeat pop song with a strong drum line that feels like it could grow on me. In between there are ups and downs that don’t necessarily stick out. “Circular Logic (Front to Back)”, the companion piece to album opener, “Front to Back (Circular Logic)”, is classic Shadow with a bouncing drum and bass line, scratching and background conversation and spoken word samples worked into the song.
DJ Shadow has a tough road and I don’t know how an artist avoids that after such a significant artistic statement. The Refused avoided it by breaking up and never following The Shape of Punk to Come. Radiohead took their music in a completely different direction after OK Computer. You just keep working and I don’t doubt that DJ Shadow has put everything he has into all of his work, he just has that enormous elephant of expectation sitting in the back of the room named Entroducing… to deal with and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.