"I got the new DJ Shadow album," I told my coworker.
"Oh ya? I heard he sold out and went all hyphy and shit." My coworker replied.
Having not listened to it yet, I felt defensive of a longtime hero; "I think it's ok..." I mumbled.
I was right; it is ok. But my coworker was right too, there are a series of genuinely discardable songs in the top half of the album that drag it down, although Shadow did not sell out. Yet the whole second half of the album is anti-hyphy. DJ Shadow is historically undeniably prolific, but this album is a weird representation of his astronomical talent and capabilities, and is a strange fusion of musical sensibilities.
The album starts out with a bizarre single male vocal talking. Then it progresses onto a promising track, "This Time...", but then falls apart in a series of really hyphy sounding songs. Even when delivering a good message, these tracks fall apart under the burden of all produced, bungled noise. Droop E-Drop's "Turf Dancing" track includes a: bouncing noise to start; a bubbles under water synth noise; background clap trac; sighing vocals; the alien landing noise; another popping noise and several almost unintelligible male vocals on top. It is fine, there is a market for that, but it is atypical Shadow, it is not good hip-hop and any asshole with enough production equipment can put it together. For people who like melody, it is physically difficult to listen to.
Thankfully, the second half of the album partially redeems itself. DJ Shadow makes some weak sauce attempts to respond to Katrina, adding to the generally lackluster hip-hop response to such an atrocious event. What follows is a musical schizophrenia, which is not entirely unpleasant. There is an unusual instrumental, a hot but somewhat degrading track "Backstage Girl," some spoken word, some echoing Coldplay/Evanescence vocal stuff, and generally just a bunch of tracks that sound like they may have been imported straight from Mars. Which is cool, sort of.
DJ Shadow's The Outsider is aptly titled; it is outside the box. I can't deliver a compliment without also supplying a criticism; can't recommend it, but I also am keeping some of the tracks on my computer (shrug). It reminds me of modern art that doesn't make sense unless you understand the mission and philosophy behind it, and in this case, no one filled me in on what he was trying to do. The only thing I can say definitively: it is surprising.