In the decade and a half since Josh Davis – aka DJ Shadow – set the Guinness World Record for the first fully-sampled album with his 1996 debut Entroducing, the revered spinner has become one of the most established names in the DJ world. Along with such a role come the inevitable trappings of expectations, perceived fan mandates of where an artist should or should not tread as they move their careers through maturing waters.
His fourth album, The Less you Know, The Better (listen to the entire thing here) shrugs off the expectations and sacred standards of someone revered as an instrumental trip-hop god, breaking the silence with an impressively eclective collection aided by guest vocalists, including Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, Posdnuos of De La Soul, Tom Vek and Talib Kweli.
This time around, the eclectic buoyancy of his previous works are traded for a heavy-handed sampling (no pun intended) of "wait, what album is this?" left turns and ambient sequences that often lull the listener into trance-like states that would justify complaint – if they weren't so captivating.
The antagonism of 2006's The Outsider has been traded for schizophrenic dabblings – whether in the psychedelic-rock flavor of the Floyd-meets-Yes guitar work in "Enemy Lines" or the frantic slut-funk of "Run For Your Life". Meanwhile, "Sad and Lonely" is a heart-puncher out of a smoky 1930s lounge scene, awash in delicate piano and soft strings that couldn't be a further reach from the atmospheric framework of the aforementioned tracks.
Yet somehow, it fits. Tom Vek's assistance on "Warning Call" calls back to an 80s pre-goth era of earnest cool, while "Back to Front" dabbles in the old-school Hip-Hop love that "Stay The Course" dives into head-first, with the assistance of Posdnous and Talib Kweli.
An unfortunate derailment pulls us out of the magic with "Give Me Back the Nights," a grating screaming spoken word over gloomy sci-fi synths. It's bizarre abrasion sets us up for the album's third act, with the rising throb-blast sounds of "I Gotta Rokk" giving way to Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon dropping a little breathy 70s-folk-soul on "Scale It Back". Feel the Bee Gees spirit!
A barrage of nineteen tracks makes The Less you Know, The Better a slow-boil builder of an album, breaking out of the box of the standard DJ model for an untethered taste of artistic growth that throws a middle finger to convention and adds exciting new colors to the palette. It's one of those records you can look forward to looking back on, remembering how the sounds slowly took hold and won you over. Save yourself some time – don't fight it.
CraveOnline Rating: 8 out of 10