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DJ Shadow

"Def Surrounds Us"

w/ b-side “I’ve Been Trying”

[Island; 2010]

By ; November 4, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Hip-hop and vinyl culture luminary DJ Shadow returns from a four year hiatus to deliver the first single from his forthcoming full length, expected in Spring 2011. “Def Surrounds Us” and “I’ve Been Trying” are an interesting pair of tracks to examine on their own merits, outside of the vision and continuity of a full album. At their best they are incredibly personal, but at their worst they seem entirely incongruous.

“Now we’re going to try and experimental number,” proclaims the sampled spoken word artist at the beginning of “Def Surrounds Us.” It’s a rather appropriate lead-in as well, as “Def Surrounds Us” finds Shadow toying with some of electronic music’s newest genres, all the while attempting to add his own style. All seven minutes of “Def Surrounds Us” are nothing short of filter house and dub-step, straying away from the hip-hop genre he at one time pioneered. Drum and bass loops spiral forward at breakneck speeds, glitching every so often to allow for vocal samplings. There is a definite sense of urgency and panic with each listen, and it’s a rather disorienting feelings. “Time shall be no more,” as one distorted vocal line states, is exactly the sensation that “Def Surrounds Us” creates. Upon multiple listens “Def Surrounds Us” sounds eerily similar to some bad audio in a trailer for a movie in the mid-’90s, think Hackers soundtrack but with more polish. Simply put, Shadow is guilty of trying too many new ideas all at the same time. It’s hard to fault an artist for trying new things on a record, but the execution undoubtedly falls short.

Everything that “Def Surrounds Us” is, “I’ve Been Trying” is not. The b-side clocks in at barely three minutes, focuses mainly on guitar tracking, and features a rather delicate flute solo; “I’ve Been Trying” is a more soulful and honest track. There’s a twinkling of a piano key, a beating of a snare, and the words of an old man dedicating the song to a love one long gone by now. “I’ve Been Trying” sounds similar to what a Shadow remix of a Jackson C. Frank song would sound like, both heartfelt and rhythmic.

While both tracks are deviations from Shadow’s catalogue, one succeeds and the other falls flat on its face. “Def Surrounds Us” is Shadow’s attempt to reestablish himself in the mainstream, foiled by his lack of earnestness in the genres he borrows from. “I’ve Been Trying” likely will not make its way to any album, but Shadow has managed to craft an interesting B-side that has at least one fan captivated in its originality and personality.

[From DJ Shadow’s forthcoming full length album, expected in Spring 2011]


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