November 15, 2019

DJ Shadow - Our Pathetic Age Review

DJ Shadow - Our Pathetic Age Review

DJ Shadow - Our Pathetic Age Review

Just over a month from the end of a decade, there's been more change in the Internet age than ever before. As the rise in social media, influencers, and connectivity continues to grow, so too do the anxieties, concerns, and questions that our artificial and intelligent world continues to pose. There's a lot to be concerned over, but there's still room for hope. If there was ever an album to sum up what's happened to us globally in the past ten years, then it is DJ Shadow's latest full-length album, Our Pathetic Age, an affecting and universal double LP that features genre-bending electronica, hip-hop, and heart.

Known to revolve around the world of hip-hop, but take an elliptical course into the realm of hardcore electronic music, DJ Shadow has been making music for precisely 30 years now. Ever since his debut landmark album, Endtroducing....., Shadow's style hasn't much strayed. A turntablist and a record collector at heart, his music always found ways to incorporate sounds of old into inventions of new in his many hip-hop and electronic productions since then. His sixth LP isn't much different, if only more expansive. DJ Shadow, aka Joshua Davis, stated that he had never set out to make a double album before, and so this was his basis of motive, to create a first half of entirely (mostly instrumental) heady and genre-expanding, electronic, hip-hop songs, and a second half full of collaborators, be it R&B singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito, or his mostly rapper-clad army to drop commentaries that are disconcerting and ratchet up the tension for what we as a society have allowed to come to pass with technology.

Opening with the first half of this experiment is some busy and abrasive soundscapes in Nature Always Wins, a short and thematic intro that cuts right into the electronic, hip-hop sensibilities of Slingblade, a minimalist, fuzzy, and poignant beat that unfolds with melody over time. It's a classic DJ Shadow composition, and lets listeners know that Shadow is prepared to unleash an epic meditation on what our pathetic age now means for all of us. Most of Shadow's tracks verge on the mind-bending and experimental, as Intersectionality begins to reverberate and dance around the head space with its moody synth and echoing toms. Juggernaut straight up pulls a hip-hop sample deep into breakcore territory, while Firestorm is a more traditional (and less hip-hop-y) piano melody that conducts the rest of the instruments around it. My Lonely Room and We Are Always Alone taps into the crushing loneliness that Davis must feel at times in the quiet between his beats. They are unbelievably moody and perfect capsules of his dark and introspective imagination. These songs all have something fascinatingly different to offer for the first half, and they prove that Davis is a master of his sound.

The second half of the album drops the moody intensity of DJ Shadow's solo material and steps aside to give the mic to a huge cast of talented and famous rappers, including Nas, Pharaoh Monch, three Wu-Tang members, Run The Jewels, and De La Soul, among many others, who all want to give their two cents about what humanity is up against with technology. Lots of the themes have to do with political climate, mind-control, social media, loss of human connection, and hopelessness. Each of these hip-hop tracks venture between the head-bobbing traditional vibes that Shadow is known for producing, and then some downright chilling material that is spoken. Most notably, JoJo's World, a suicide track rapped by Stro. Also the Urgent, Important, Please Read, is the most poignant, on the nose song of the album, where the listener is directly addressed, "a few different perspectives to reinforce the notion that you are not going crazy, and you are not being paranoid, and everything that you've been worried about are the exact things that need to be on your mind. The question is, what do we do about it?"

In a sense, Our Pathetic Age is a wake-up call to those who are lost in the digital universe, and a hopeful reminder to remember what makes us human. It's a call to action to not put the blinders on when staring at our screens, and that this new uncertain decade that we are about to embark on is the ultimate decider of what we will collectively choose for our destiny. It's the end of the 2010s, and Our Pathetic Age will hopefully (as Davis hopes) become a beautiful, new beginning. For these reasons, DJ Shadow's sixth double LP is elevated beyond what he is normally capable of producing, and will remain one of the most comprehensive recordings to document this unprecedented change that our species is facing. DJ Shadow also proves that he remains one of the most compelling, electronic, hip-hop, turntablist, producers of our time.

Our Pathetic Age - 8.25/10

Recommended Tracks: Slingblade, My Lonely Room, Urgent, Important, Please Read