Saturday, 3 September 2016

Record Reviews - DJ Shadow and De La Soul

So here are two huge names in hip hop -  although one moreso in EDM circles these days - both with new-ish albums released this year.
I plonked myself down in my ABU chair and forced myself to listen to them.

Up first was De La's 'De La Soul and the Anonymous Nobody...'.
This was all produced with the help of Joe Bloggs off the street, meaning it was a publicly-funded effort rather than funded by a record company. I remember reading about the campaign to help out and the emphasis on the fact that there would be NO samples and that everything would be created in-house to cut down on any copyright wrangles (cough, 3 Feet High & Rising...).

All well-meaning I'm sure you'll agree. However the finished product comes off sounding rather lacklustre. The beats are by no means as suicide-inducing as Dre's for his Compton album of 2015 but then De La have branched out to the more erm, experimental audience during their tenure and show no signs of changing direction any time soon.
Guest spots adorn the long-player and artists such as Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, David Byrne, Damon Albarn, 2Chainz and.... Justin Hawkins(!) and splattered all over the place.
Now I'm not a big fan of multiple guests on albums be they singers or producers and prefer less to give it a more focused direction. But hey, more artists means more fanbases being hit, right?

After solid listen I can honestly say that none of the tracks stayed with me afterwards which is a real shame considering the talent that was involved. Would Prince Paul have made it any better? Well, he couldn't have made it any worse.
I remember only a few months ago being sent a link to a "lost" track from the De La Soul Is Dead recording sessions via De La's mailing service. This song was better than anyone on display here.
This quote taken from a Discogs review of 'Anonymous...' sums up my feelings, "...this sounds like someone from Radio 6 music kidnapped De La and made them make an album they could play to the 50 something beard-strokers and wannabe Hip Hoppers".

So, in summary, crowd-funded but not entirely crowd-pleasing album that looks better on paper than listened to on your headphones.

Now onto DJ Shadow....

Since 1996's Endtroducing....., Shadow has desperately tried to distance and reinvent himself from that mid-90s beatmaking 'trip hop' head. Each subsequent album has progressed in terms of ideas and concepts not to mention studio tricks yet has lost a lot of funk each time.
2016's The Mountain Will Fall has some great moments and almost reminds you of how great he can be before everything after The Private Press happened.
The majority of ideas and contributions here are Shadow's with minimal input from other artists although when he does have a guest with him then they feel like they should be there rather than included for pure record sales. Run The Jewels almost steal the album with Nobody Speak and it's bluesy-guitars based hip hop plodder. The video for this is pure brilliance, too.
The Sideshow which features newcomer, Ernie Fresh is a great return to the turntablism tricks that Shadow showed us on The Number Song with crashing breaks and superb scratching.
Audio soundscapes are always on evidence with Shadow's work (Three Ralphs, Ashes to Oceans) and album-closer Suicide Pact is a perfect downtempo, late-night plodder with plenty of delay effects.

Over the years Shadow has shifted from straight up hip hop - not that Endtroducing..... was that at all - to the more EDM crowd and this album features plenty of bass and bleeps, however used correctly they are not cumbersome and feel right and not at all annoying.

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