DJ Shadow - The Outsider
Reviewed by Ben on 28th August 2006
With the powerful use of soft piano with selections of breaks over the top, Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt heralded in the masterpiece of 1996; without question one of the finest album to grace not just the history of dance music, but perhaps music in general. DJ Shadow's first album Endtroducing still is classed as a blueprint for any DJ wanting to venture down the electronica/trip hop route, and along with Massive Attack and Portishead, was a definitive moment in bring trip hop to popular culture. An enormous debt of gratitude over the years has been placed on the thirty-three year old Californian native, with other luminaries of the genre citing him as an influence (DJ Yoda, Diplo, RJD2).
Rarely has Shadow steered anyone wrong with his follow up album The Private Press, breaking the mould that albums that take six years or longer fail to live up to expectation. His work with Dan the Automator as well as collaborations with Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5), DJ Q-bert and helping create U.N.K.L.E's downtempo sound on Psyence Fiction would indicate that he keeps himself very busy, almost to a point he doesn't have much time for his own project. However, after four years, Shadow has returned with his third album, The Outsiders all the work with other artists taken a toll on his own work?
Fans of Shadow can breathe a sigh of relief - The Outsider may have a different approach than his previous albums with the use of many names on the track (including Q-Tip, Sergio Pizzorno and Christopher Karloff), and at times the elimination of the piano breaks that made him famous are absent, but what we're left with is one of the strongest influences DJ Shadow draws his samples from, funk, and combines it with the music style that is huge on the underground music circuit - hyphy.
With the albums second track This Time reminiscent to a Babyface track, the artists that provide MC'ing over the tracks do not overpower his work much like you would assume it to. If anything, Shadow's breakbeats overpower them - with 3 Freaks, the rapping by Keak Da Sneak Turf Talk is merely an afterthought as you listen to what Shadow is providing. It's not simply a beat for them to rap over, but a landscape the two rappers try to overcome, coming close at times but ultimately never succeeding.
Then there are tracks you wouldn't somewhat expect to hear from DJ Shadow - almost as if he's enjoying what he's done so far that he can afford to throw some material his fans might find a little 'out there'. The Tiger feature Sergio Pizzorno providing his trademark yelping on a track that more resembles Kasabian's popular early work than their second album! However it's that laid back approach with Shadow's stellar production techniques that make it another standout track on the album.
This is a throwback to Shadow's early days as a turntablist in a rap group, his first venture into the music business, and in keeping with the latest fads in America, has honed a style, made it his own and made it nigh on impossible to replicate. Shadow claims that song for song this is the best album he's made - it's a step in a totally different direction, but it indeed works. Could he finally see chart success over here in the UK? Seein Thangs could be that breakthrough.
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