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RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke

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Artist: RJD2

Album: Since We Last Spoke

Label: Def Jux

Review date: Jul. 14, 2004

Any review of RJD2’s new album Since We Last Spoke is guaranteed to reference DJ Shadow; it’s simply unavoidable. His 2002 debut Deadringer, on Definitive Jux, is considered a minor hip hop classic, many critics and fans making immediate parallels to DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking Entroducing released six years prior. There is no doubt that both have influenced a new hip hop landscape. But the Shadow references should stop there. Comparing artists to their forbearers is a crutch to avoid critical thought about the current subject, and the discussion should be about R.J. Krohn, his music, and whether it’s any good.

While Deadringer was a tour de force of soul and funk powered by Krohn’s infectious style of boom bap hip hop, on Since We Last Spoke his feelers are out, experimenting with everything from rock and grunge, to pop and new wave. In fact, he’s got everything but an emcee. As talented as the Def Jux affiliates are on the mic, many will argue that their inclusion on Deadringer put a damper on the cohesion of the album. The album kicks off with the title track, which blasts off with the same futuristic intensity of Deadringer’s “The Horror.” All of the same techniques and flare are still firmly in place, but Krohn has learned a few more tricks since 2002. The structure of the tracks tend to be more complex, with more depth, movements, and ambient layers. Rock superstar drum rolls crash on “Exotic Talk,” a grunge piece that sees Krohn living like a head banger for three and a half minutes. One of the album’s best tracks, “De L’alouette,” cries with chaotic juxtaposition and climactic swells (reminiscent of Prefuse 73), but counters with emotion with lush French vocals. In addition to all of these new signs of growth, Krohn fills the gaps with live instrumentation, further adding to the textural balance.

If there’s anything perturbing about Krohn’s style, it’s the similarity in production. Throughout Deadringer and many of the tracks he’s produced since, his style has been very distinct, frequently characterized by stuttering drum patterns and chopped up synth that punctuate his every move. It’s not exactly a negative trait, but his production, while distinguishable, has remained very much the same.

But despite this minor flaw, it seems Krohn is trying his best to expand his sound and that all begins with the vocals. While Deadringer focused primarily on lost soul and funk, Since We Last Spoke experiments with a wide range of voices as Krohn arranges his music to compliment each centerpiece. The understated European vocals on “Making Days Longer” are met with equally modest strings and synth (although, it sounds oddly like the Verve Pipe’s “Freshmen”). Similarly, the Latin influenced “1976” and the exploration of “Someone’s Second Kiss” work well in reinventing Krohn’s sound.

With experimentation comes occasional failure, however, and at times Since Last We Spoke can feel a bit forced. There are plenty of spots that scream for attention, but only yield awkwardness. From the failed speed injected ’80s tune “Through the Walls” or the crossbreeding of IDM and electronica on “Iced Lightning,” some of Krohn’s experimentations fall flat in their quest to be too much too fast. In all honesty, the news of a new RJD2 album was a bit of a surprise to me. Even though two years have passed since Deadringer, Krohn has been anything but idle. Between The Horror EP, the Soul Position EP and album (with Blueprint), not to mention the gang of tracks he produced for others, it just didn’t seem like their was enough time to refine his sound for another full-length. While many of the ideas here work, the new directions of Since We Last Spoke sound half-baked.

By Brian Ho

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