Near the beginning of DJ Shadow’s 1994 debut, Endtroducing…, a sampled voice proclaims, “I’m a student of the drum. And I’m also a teacher.” In the context of his brooding, beat-based psychedelia it spoke volumes. Shadow picks up the conceit on The Less You Know, The Better, his first studio album in five years. The record opens with a sampled grunt: “I’m back. I forgot my drum.” The voice might be a little wry, or a little petulant, and again, it makes sense. The Bay Area producer still knows how to stir up a cool funnel of dusty beats, as he proves on tracks like “Back to Front (Circular Logic)” and “Enemy Lines.” But the drum is no longer the most important element. True to its dilettantish title, The Less You Know, The Better flits wantonly between styles, trying them on and wearing them out before jumping to the next idea and turning it inside out.
The chugging metal of “Border Crossing” recalls Ministry or the Prodigy; “Warning Call” falls somewhere between Depeche Mode and Interpol; “Run For Your Life” re-imagines the Violent Femmes as Chicago Juke, while “Give Me Back the Nights” is creepy post-punk overlaid with found spoken-word poetry you’ll wish you could unheard. The industrial funk of “I Gotta Rokk” sounds, however improbably, like Colourboxx’s “Hot Doggy,” itself the most improbable song on 4AD’s 1987 compilation Lonely Is an Eyesore. The R&B slow jam “Scale It Back” sounds awesome, but then, it would — Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano enlivens everything she appears on. And the drums show Shadow once again to be a teacher, and not just a method actor.