on September 19, 2006
DJ Shadow's newest release "The Outsider" proves itself to be the very definition of a mixed bag. In all honesty, I can't think of another release by a single artist that is as all over the map genre-wise as this CD is. Of course, comments by Shadow himself in advance of this release hinted at this being the case, but man if it doesn't make it a jarring listen. His other two proper albums felt like unified works meant to be listened to all at once, but this one feels like a poorly constructed mix CD. The first 3 tracks alone bear this out. The intro sets an ominous tone that gives way to almost sunny sounding by comparison soul of "This Time", which then transitions to the manic hip-hop of "3 Freaks". At that point most listeners will find themselves scratching their heads. I can respect an artist trying to expand his creative palette to include music he himself enjoys, but some cohesion would've surely improved the experience. I agree with the other reviewers saying rock fans will probably hate the rap and vice versa, so people considering buying the album should try before they buy.
I am a huge fan of "Endtroducing" and "Private Press", and echo the disappointment of others who waited 4 years to receive this album that is pretty much nothing like his other 2. That being said, expectations should never get in the way of reviewing music on its own terms, and that's what I'm attempting to do here. There are tracks that rise above the others, such as the aforementioned "This Time", which seems like his only attempt at resembling his earlier work, and it does so admirably. Of the hyphy tracks, "3 Freaks" is entertaining with its manic energy but wears a bit thin before it ends, "Seein' Thangs" is a Katrina inspired track filled with dread and a nice guest turn by David Banner, and "Enuff" has a catchy bounce to it. "Backstage Girl" is probably the best hip-hop track on the album, featuring a nice bluesy guitar riff and drum solo. And I think that's the sound of Mario getting a coin at the end of "Dat's My Part". That's about all I can say for the rap tracks.
As for the more rock inspired tracks, "Artifact" sounds like the castoff from another album that it in fact is. The other tracks are okay but nothing particularly memorable. I know I just glossed over a large part of the 2nd half of the album, but really, there's nothing there that really jumps out at you and compels you to listen. In the end, I can respect Shadow trying to branch out, but I think with this album he's proven why most artists find the one kind of music they're good at and stick with it. The result sounds like fairly by the numbers entries for each genre. I'm giving it 3 stars even though it's more like 2 1/2, rounded up because plenty of people have been harsh enough on the guy as is and he did give me 2 albums that I've been able to enjoy over and over again, and the CD sounds very well produced. Hopefully now that he has this album out of his system, he can find his groove again in the not too distant future.
on September 29, 2006
Let's get one thing out of the way. This isn't an album. It's a collection of songs, much more in the tradition of, say, Quannum's "Spectrum," and more eclectic even than the first UNKLE album Shadow did. Where it fails is that it doesn't work as an album, and--unlike Shadow's previous two records--there are really a couple throwaway cuts here. Where it does work is that most of the material on it is just flat-out good. So I advise those who are slamming it and those who are about to do so to take another listen. There is some excellent material here.
The opening number has the usual Shadow intro cut mystique. The second cut, This Time, is a solid MoTown takeoff. From there the album goes into some well-produced hip hop numbers that could easily fit in with anything in the Top 40 if the guest MCs were a bit better known. These aren't as creative as Mashin' on the Motorway, and the beats lack the timeless, soulful beauty of earlier Shadow cuts, but they are solid and fun nonetheless, and prove that Shadow could be a regular on the radio if he wanted to be.
The middle of the album is where it suffers a bit. That punk-driven Artifact song, what is it really? Broken levee blues has some nice guitar work but something more probably could have been done with it. Backstage Girl is a pretty good bit of hip-hop storytelling but it probably shouldn't be 7 minutes long. What Have I Done has a beautiful, haunting arrangement but the arty spoken-word vocals are kitschy.
The latter stages of the album go into some poprock and a smoother hip-hop number that's straight outta Quannum (Enuff). The Chris James tracks are like UNKLE meets Coldplay. (From this reviewer's perspective, that's a good thing, although not everyone might think so.) The instrumental number and Cage tribute Triplicate and The Tiger are really the only songs on this disc that sound like they're by the same artist who made Endtroducing. This is a foray into much more established genres and styles of songwriting, and demonstrates more that DJ Shadow can do any and all of them well, rather than that he is forging new territory.
DJ Shadow's previous records, Endtroducing and the Private Press, were both very cohesive as albums despite their range, and were very delicately and intricately put together and mesmerizingly arranged. This one seems just sort of thrown together, a "look what I can do" compilation. But hey, it's still DJ Shadow. Look what he can do.
on October 6, 2006
Am I confused here? Did I just give DJ Shadow 1 star?
I sure did. I am not a "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff" zealot, but I have my limits. This is just terrible, piss-weak crunk trash. I really dont have anything else to say about this other than thank god that I can still turn to Diplo and RJD2 to help me forget i heard this.
Please DJ Shadow - come back to us and ditch this daarrrty soouuth crap!
on October 24, 2006
I don't know about you, but when I heard that DJ Shadow was going to be branching out, making as he says "credible" rock, rap, folk, etc., I was pretty excited. Endtroducing... happened over a decade ago, after all, and one can only listen to "The Number Song" so many times. I thought The Private Press was a great departure, incorporating other sounds and styles while still sounding like Shadow, and his various side projects (notably UNKLE) have been mostly inspired.
So to say I was anticipating this CD would be an understatement. After all, who wouldn't want to hear a premier producer like Shadow apply his studio wizardry to some new styles? He has a knack for taking different genres and redefining them - I couldn't wait to hear Shadow's take on punk or mainstream hip-hop.
What I didn't expect was an aimless, underwhelming album. "The Outsider" is diverse, yes, and when done right, a diverse record can be great. So what if one cut is folk and the next cut is hip-hop? Good music is good music. There is something to be said for cohesion, however, and (judging from his posts) Shadow seems to think that we'll just pick and choose the cuts we want for our Ipod playlists and junk the rest of the album. I don't know about you, but I still dig a good full-length record, and the best records don't have filler just for filler's sake. To me, this is just an excuse for lazy sequencing and weak production.
And make no mistake, many of these cuts are weak. "Backstage Girl" is a half-baked idea that goes nowhere, and "Turf Dancing" sounds like a manufacturer's demo for a sequencing program. "The Tiger" recalls UNKLE the way Sum 41 recalls The Descendents (that is, a rehashing that pales in comparison).
There are a handful of tracks that hit the mark. "Artifact" is proof that Shadow should produce a Bad Brains reunion, as he nails the perfect combination of grit and enthusiasm that punk requires (though the programmed drums are occasionally to rigid, which can be distracting). "3 Freaks," though essentially a one-trick-pony track (very unlike Shadow), nevertheless has a catchy hook and well-programmed beats. The MCing is a whole other story, however. Turf Talk and Keak da Sneak sound like they would get laughed off the stage at an open-mic night; lord only knows what they're doing on this record. On the other hand, Lateef and Q-Tip show what Shadow can do with some good MCs, making "Enuff" one of the best party tracks to come out in a long time.
But really, "The Outsider" comes down to 2 or 3 good tracks, a small handful of a-little-less-than-decent tracks, and a large handful of forgetable, ordinary tracks. And one thing Shadow has never been is "ordinary."
To me, the strangest thing about this album's release is Shadow's apparent contempt for his fans. Dude, I understand that you want a larger audience and all, but you're talking about your fans as if we're all losers just because we dug a record you made some years back. Now I can't speak for all Shadow fans, but I never wanted another Endtroducing... I love it when artists evolve in an exciting new direction. Like I said, good music is good music. But "The Outsider" is a lazy step backward. This is surprising and depressing coming from an artist whose work usually rewards repeat listens with hidden depths. It might sound alright at a frat party in-between cuts from Nelly and Paris Hilton, but it would pale in comparison on a mixtape next to TV on the Radio.
Hopefully, on his next record, Shadow will be able to tackle the broad, diverse sensibilities of "The Outsider" with some stronger material.
on September 28, 2006
First of all I'm going to say that I rep the bay and am an avid supporter of the hyphy music. Hyphy music is a way of combining bay area street culture with mainstream tempo's that are acceptable to radio format. Many of the beats are instrumentally sparse, but create a trance by which people can get crazy and let go of their inhibitions. You could compare this to punk music in that respect. Keak Da Sneak's voice is annoying at first, but if you're a part of hyphy culture, and you understand the context and the vibe of East Oakland, it has a genius of it's own. A lot of these raps would also be difficult to understand if you don't know the "slanguage" as we call it.
Being eclectic in my taste, I appreciate both hyphy music, and classic DJ Shadow.
That being said, Entroducing was DJ Shadow's best album, and this is his worst. One of the most important things when releasing a musical project is cohesiveness. In other words, each song should flow together to form a unified whole. The Outsider, while it has some decent songs, sounds all over the place. In a perfect world (no pun intended), I think that Shadow would make albums of breakbeats and atmospheric soundscapes for his fans of that, and produce beats for hyphy rappers on the side, or as another project. While he has talent in both styles, they do not mix together well on one album.
His non-rap songs were mostly decent but unphenomenal and below the work he's done before. They didn't have the same gritty analog feel that his previous efforts did. Triplicate is an example of that. Nice to relax to, but won't change your outlook on life.
Most his rap songs good / decent, although I don't think his expedition into crunk was necessary, and track #6 with Nump was wack as hell. It sounded like two people who wanted to collaborate with each other based on name recognition, but with no chemistry in the studio.
Now if you want the old Shadow back, you have to become that yourself. Get a turntable and start digging! You can't force an artist to make music he doesn't want to make! I would love to see the old DJ Shadow back, but he's made it clear that it's not going to happen! Where's the next generation of instrumental hip hop beat diggers?
on September 23, 2006
I was really disappointed in this album, but I can't say it was totally unexpected. Outsider is completely different than other Shadow album and he should at least be credited with doing something different than he's done before, but the album just has too many problems with it to be considered good. Maybe my standards are higher than other's, but here's some reasons why Outsider is crap..
Hyphy and crunk, for the most part, sucks. This may seem like an opinion, but it's a fact: this stuff is simple, contrived party music. It's intentionally shallow. It's whole purpose is to be the party song of the month or whatever and then to be forgotten. So, half the album is automatically garbage..
Lame rapping. Again, my standards may be higher than others, but I've heard so many amazing emcees that crap like this makes me wonder how these guys manage to make a living.. And I have as many fond memories of Q-tip as the next, but I would hope this crap is not his second coming..
Lack of cohesion. The intro sets the stage for some darkness and six straight party songs follow. Then some blues guitar and some fast drums. Then later there's some dude who sounds like the Coldplay guy.. Basically, Outsider sounds like two or three different eps crammed together.
So, any Shadow fan who doesn't know by now:
Do not automatically buy this album because of who made it. Give it a listen first.
on September 20, 2006
First of all im a huge fan of Endtroducing and the first Unkle record. This record is nothing like these two seminal records except in parts closer to the Unkle project. The problem here really is the "hyphy or "crunk" rap that dominates large sections of Outsider. To be fair the album starts off great with the pulsing spoken word Outsider intro then "this Time" which though simple is a tasty funk soul throwback that is actually good. The next four tracks(3-4-5-6) however were terrible- i mean terrible. Track 7 a rap rant on Katrina is not half bad if not naive in political sloganeering. Track 8 instrumental is more traditional shadow albeit with a bluesy guitar riff. Track 9 artifact is not very good. Then something happens- songs ten through 15 actually start to redeem the album alittle. This is where the Unkle vibe comes in- a mix of guest rock and pop vocalists- the tiger featuring members of Kasabian) is pretty good as is the instrumental Triplicate. Nothing great but solid. The chris james vocal tracks are good but he sounds like hes trying to hard to imitate Thom Yorke or Coldplay.- musically however its rewarding. This is where in my opinion the album could have ended admirably- instead the last 3 tracks (mostly rap stuff) start sinking this faster than you can say man overboard. With some heavy editing on my Ipod the album comes across as reasonably solid- as a ten track record free of the generic hiphop stuff it kind of resembles a new Unkle record- not as dark or heavy but interesting. * just a note as far as fans feeling slighted i dont think DJ Shadow cares what we think nor should he- musicians and artists should make their art for themselves first and foremost(if it fails as a large portion of Outsider does) theres no one to blame except themselves- thats why there is so much bad music- people trying to please fans radio record companies etc. If you think you can do better then try- you might suprise yourself or find out how hard it is to continue to write good stuff. Though i know its personal and special to have an intimate relationship with an artists music- in the end he doesnt know you your life and doesnt and shouldnt care.
DJ Shadow is reknowned for all sorts of innovative, unique use of samples, turntabling, hip-hop, and electronica. So how did he end up going from the brilliant "Endtroducing" and "Brainfreeze" to a piece of overprocessed, soulless dreck like "The Outsider"? Nobody can be really sure, but however it happened, it wasn't worth the ride.
From start to finish, this album is a ride through uninteresting rap and a schizophrenic array of different sounds. It feels as though Shadow was running out of time before a deadline, and hastily slapped together some songs that belonged to current trends and appealed to the radioslave crowd.
Things sound promising with the eerie, ambient "Outsider Intro," which spins up a mythic edge to the album. "In a twilight of a time, there emerges a need for man to comprehend his own bitter fate. Finally resigned to the inevitable beyond, he searches the ages, desperate for stories of insurance, redemption and hope..." It's a promising beginning.
Then it all falls apart. "This Time" stumbles over itself into a radio-friendly pop disaster, followed by an equally forgettable rap entry in "3 Freaks." DJ Shadow attempts to regain the turntablist edge with headache-inducing hyphy with its twangy electrobeats, and halfhearted synth over jagged, rambling raps that never really go anywhere.
As if that weren't schizophrenic enough, Shadow then decides to do a bluesy, acoustic "Levee Blues," reminiscent of the bluesy sound of Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, and even some new-agey piano solos that sounds like something from a relaxation album. Then it's back to the generic rap and lifeless trip-funk, with Shadow apparently tiring of the sound himself by the end. He certainly sounds uninspired enough, to the point where the final song sounds like Super Mario Hip-Hop.
Don't bother looking for DJ Shadow of "Endtroducing" and "Brainfreeze" in this album. It's like someone using the name "DJ Shadow" has put out entirely different music -- not only is his "sound" gone except for a scrap here and there, but his creativity is as well. While every artist has to pursue new territory, Shadow isn't doing that.
It sounds like he is chasing whatever will go over best with the mainstream -- the current hip-hop trends, and generic rap from a plethora of guesting MCs. And the random, schizophrenic quality only makes it worse -- Shadow veers madly from pop to hard rap to blues to ambient piano to hyphy (the last of which ensures that this sound will be dated in about five minutes).
To make things worse, the only raps worth listening to are in the intro and Sergio Pizzorn. Other ones tend to be either incoherent or downright incomprehensible -- and even if you figure out what they are saying, it isn't anything too impressive. They're also some of the most soulless rap songs I've ever heard, with layers of synth and the odd beats to distract from the complete lack of soul or feeling.
Incoherent and all over the place, "The Outsider" is an unexpected stumble for a very talented DJ -- ultra-generic hip-hop, plus everything except the kitchen sink. A disastrous attempt to try something new.
on October 23, 2006
I'm loving the back & forth between the reviewers here. First we have All the traditional DJ Shadow fans that want to hate the new CD, Then you have your "supposedly" more open-minded listeners that are into it & claim to be glad that Shadow's experimenting. I'm here to set the record straight on this album for real. Let's all be honest, this album is a blatant departure from the method of making an "album" that Shadow has employed in the past. The new style tracks such as "3 Freaks", "Keep em Close", & "Turf Dancing" stand out like sore thumbs created by a bad Lil Jon wannabe. Then the rest of the album is like what happens with a real DJ Shadow album. It's jarring, disorienting, more than a little disappointing, & just plain incongruous at times. It's like Shadow went into the studio, made 10 really good traditional tracks, than woke up one morning & said, "I need to make more money & buck my pigeon hole "underground" status!"... "I'm gonna pull a Black Eyed Peas! Yeah, that's the ticket!" SO then he went back to the studio, took his machines & threw them out the window, bought an MPC, found a bunch of hacky dirty south wannabe rappers (if they can even be called that)& made like 5 more tracks in 1 day. Then he smiled, slapped a cover on "The Outsider" and brought it to the record label who kindly thanked him for providing them w/ tracks that can actually be played on MTV for once... instead of continuing to appeal to the artistic minority. *Ahem* **Smart, discerning people** Overall, this CD sounds like it was begun by DJ Shadow, the real DJ Shadow, or at least what his sound used to be, & then he was abducted by space aliens & they inserted a commercially viable bio-duplicate to just quickly poop out 5 radio friendly tracks. Don't worry, I read Shadows URB interview, he told everyone that he was tired of being stereotyped as a backpacker DJ & wanted to hear his music on the radio & from the IPOD's of 13 year olds instead of 30 year olds. Damn, what a shame. Classic compromising of artistic integrity over substance & perseverance. This CD is a shameful disappointment from one of the greatest beat maker/producers of our time. Hopefully the critical backlash will overpower the commercial success & Shadow will return to doing what he does or DID best -- Dusty breaks, soulful samples, Just GOOD 'ol fashioned BEATS.
on January 5, 2007
1. Outsider Intro (sets the stage for an album that no one could live up to, ponderous, ego-centric).
2. This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way) (not a bad tune, but hardly breaking any new ground).
3. 3 Freaks - DJ Shadow/Keak Da Sneak/Turf Talk (i came into hyphy with an open mind, and within a second it snapped shut).
4. Droop-E Drop (an aural endurance test).
5. Turf Dancing (aural endurance test #2).
6. Keep Em Close (#3).
7. Seein' Thangs (i'm just not a fan of david banner. i'm all for bush bashing, but it's almost too easy).
8. Broken Levee Blues (blues tune out of nowhere with a piano solo thats from another record)
9. Artifact (Instrumental) (when did dj shadow forget how to make a worthwhile engaging instrumental? totally forgettable).
10. Backstage Girl (had me for the first three minutes, but then it turns into an 8 minute opus. you'd think a shadow tune would have a bit more depth than this. the nature of the character in the song changes as well. very inconsistent)
11. Triplicate / Something Happened That Day (forgettable).
12. The Tiger (another worthless instrumental).
13. Erase You (halfway decent, but a radiohead/coldplay drone).
14. What Have I Done (drone)
15. You Made It (drone)
16. Enuff (much talent is involved, but the beat and chorus are made for the pop crowd).
17. Dats My Part (it's me, i just don't like E-40).
18. 3 Freaks (Droop-E remix) (it was bad enough once).