DJ Shadow's last outing, 2006's The Outsider, was a schizophrenic mixtape split between Bay Area crunk and laborious retreads. His apologists called it a mixed bag; his detractors said failure. Shadow stood by it, saying he was cleaning the slate (likely addressing his creative ambitions as much as fan expectations). With his latest, Shadow proves to be the only musician in our time capable of steamrolling listeners with one-dimensional pathos while remaining texturally nebulous. It hurts good to hear his two-part "Sad and Lonely," which marries mournful pianos with the ghostly vocal of '50s folkie Susan Reed. "I Gotta Rokk" is just as brutish, a metal guitar-laden stomper, stuffed with scythe-sharp hip-hop breaks. His guest spots (thankfully) aren't meant to be centerpieces, though Talib Kweli and De La Soul's Posdnuos on "Stay the Course" leave the mics torn. Shadow also delivers a haunting funk vamp with "Enemy Lines" and an unsettling horror poem on "Give Me The Nights." The lone bad idea, "Border Crossing," continues Shadow's (sometimes) misguided relationship with rock. He can't match the impact of his canonical Entroducing, but that's a pioneer's burden, one that the burden-less are too quick to hold against him.
★★★★ (4/5 stars)