Sunday, November 14, 2010

DJ Shadow - "Def Surrounds Us" (LP Review)

Since 2010 is nearly over, so I suppose I should review something actually released in 2010...

The latest DJ Shadow single "Def Surrounds Us" / "I've Been Trying" was released in September 2010 in both digital and 12" formats (an interesting mix of new & old school). I was fortunate to get a official, free download (the window has now closed), and I've been listening to the two tracks and have been conflicted about them.

First, although it is only two tracks, none of the flaws that made "The Outsider" such a terrible LP are present. Whereas "The Outsider" found Shadow exploring hyphy (but adding nothing new), the song "Def Surrounds Us" finds Shadow revisiting the well established genre of drum and bass as well as the relatively new genre of dubsteb (it was actually a tweet from Shadow that turned me on to dubsteb).

But like his flirtation with hyphy before, it is not clear that he's adding something new. As far as drums and bass, I don't hear anything that Plug (aka Luke Vibert) didn't do in the mid-90s (cf. "Drum 'n' Bass for Papa"). As for dubstep, Shadow's work is better than Skream (cf. "Midnight Request Line") but not as good as Burial (cf. "Southern Comfort"). The excellent vocal samples are unique to Shadow, but that's not enough to carry the song. The song does get more interesting from ~ 3:00-6:00, but I would have been more impressed if this had come out before "Drum 'n' Bass for Papa" (1996).

"I've Been Trying" is a totally different song, a slow, bluesy vocal track that sounds like an out take from "The Outsider" (cf. "Broken Levee Blues"). A nice contrast to the first song, but not necessarily a standout.

I'm trying to be optimistic... When the "You Can't Go Home Again" single came out in 2002, I didn't really know what to make of it. But it made more sense in the context of the following LP "The Private Press", and honestly that LP made a lot more sense only after the Japanese-only remix LP "The Private Repress". Ultimately, this single sounds like a vast improvement over "The Outsider", but as I said in that review, I liked it better when DJ Shadow invented genres instead of just participating in them.

Standoutsongs: "Def Surrounds Us", "I've Been Trying"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 5/10. I thought about a 6/10, but honestly that would be giving him a pass just because he's DJ Shadow.

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