(Sony Music)

Talking to a DJ friend of mine, I asked what he thought about the new DJ Krush album, "Zen." See, I get turned on to a lot of new underground hip-hop and drum-n-bass stuff from this girl I know (she has her connections), and this happened to be her latest "go and review this for me." As I had never had a run in with DJ Krush, didn't know his work or what his contribution to the scene truly was, I thought I'd ask for a professional opinion. His name didn't have the immediate "lay down your weapons" effect of a Kid Koala, Mix Master Mike, or DJ Shadow, but judging from some of the names who came out to cameo for his latest effort, he was respected to some degree.

So in talking about some new releases I wanted to cover for the month, DJ Krush came up. I told him that I gave it a quick listen, was a little… confused to the underlying theme at work on "Zen", and was happy to find someone who knew a little bit about the Japanese DJ. Turns out he knew more than a little bit about DJ Krush. This was clearly an artist that struck a chord with those who knew the scene.

"Yeah… I like that album. It mixes in so smooth," he said in an almost wistful, appreciative tone.
"Really. Well, it's pleasant enough, but don't you think it's a too ambient, almost?" I asked back.
"Well, I don't think it works as an album, but…"

"But it's still good, though, right. I could see it being useful for mixing," I said, trying to act as if I knew of what I spoke.

Intelligent ignorance is a gift.

DJ collections are always a tricky proposition, because they either end up as bafflingly great failures or classics. The ability to string together an album of scratches and soundscapes comes down to a knowledge of what will make a COMPLETE album, not just one that sounds good, a point made by the rash of emcee showcases that pass for DJ albums lately. Regardless, a DJ would hardly be asked to produce an album if their dossier weren't in some way respectable, so some amount of excellence is expected.

DJ Krush's dossier is quite respectable, it must be noted. He's been around the block, and has been an indispensable force in the underground, a sort of hop-hop folk hero in Japan since the mid-80s. He's been noted for his ability to layer acid-jazz, R&B, and hip-hop into a very smooth mixture that's gotten him international notice. So when artists like Black Thought and N'Dea Davenport come out for his latest, you realize that it's more than just some record label favor.

On "Zen", it becomes obvious that DJ Krush has the skill to produce fine music, but as a complete album "Zen" really doesn't work. It feels too airy, too light to be taken seriously as an album, several tracks floating by with little notice. The performers pull their weight, the production is fine, but as a whole, "Zen" could be accused of being almost too cool. But what's a less-than-complete album turns out to be a good showing of DJ Krush's skill as an effortless combiner of beats and rhythms. And isn't that really the most important thing? I wouldn't suggest my favorite movie soundtracks as some of the best albums, but the skill in picking out music that fits the mood shouldn't be disregarded either.

You'd probably remember "Zen" as being the music at one of the best parties you've been to in recent memory. This is atmospheric music, it helps to create memories, and for that reason, even though it ultimately fails as a strictly end-to-end album, it succeeds in so many other areas. Whether or not to assail DJ Krush for a release that's more ethereal than solid is up to you, but at the same time it would be a shame to disregard "Zen" completely. Just like "Dazed and Confused" is more remembered as a movie to be enjoyed with friends, DJ Krush's ability as a DJ/Producer is further in evidence on his latest release. While not as polished as DJ Shadow's "Endtroducing…" for example, "Zen" will be remembered mostly for the mood it creates, and that's not at all bad. It remains his choice to release a more definitive album now.

-- Maurice Downes

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