DJ Shadow: The Less You Know, the Better

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SEPTEMBER 25, 2011

Only putting out one album every few years is a risky move. The artist has more time to perfect his work, but that doesn’t make a record immune to negative reception. DJ Shadow should have learned this when his 2006 album The Outsider received universally poor reviews. Yet the San Francisco-based producer’s latest studio effort The Less You Know, the Better follows this pattern of overly hyped but disappointing releases. Maybe Shadow still hasn’t learned his lesson — or maybe he just doesn’t care what his listeners think. Such unwavering loyalty to his own taste is admirable, but it has left his new record a self-indulgent, pseudo-eclectic mess.

The only viable theme throughout each song is the element of surprise. Listeners never know what they’re going to hear next: hip-hop, metal, blues? Blending genres is an intriguing tactic, but Shadow has traded this for a simple cut and paste approach. The result sounds like someone putting their iPod on shuffle. Though Shadow may have intended to share what he considered to be a diverse collection of his favorite songs, listeners can’t help but feel as if he is only attempting to cram his “superior” taste in music down their throats.

This excessive use of sampling restricts Shadow’s ability to fully demonstrate his talent. We hear less of his expert scratching and infectious hip-hop beats; instead, we’re left only with minute tweaking. It is on his few original tracks that we see his creativity flow freely and catch a glimpse of the various directions that The Less You Know, the Better could have taken (hip-hop or new wave revival, for example). In trying to fit five years of ideas into one record, however, Shadow overwhelms his listeners with a chaotic explosion of non-sequitur tracks.

Contact Erin Donaldson at 


SEPTEMBER 26, 2011