Sharps & flats

DJ Krush reduces trip-hop to suggestive subtlety.

Topics: Music,

Plagued by attention deficit disorder? DJ Krush’s “Kakusei” is so monotonous that you’ll be frantically pacing the floor within seconds. But if you chain yourself to a sofa, retreat into a set of headphones and maybe even spark a joint or pop a Ritalin or two, the understated, diverse nuances are potent and rewarding. Krush makes head-nodding, cerebral trip-hop with languid, minimal tempos similar to classic dub; it’s not supposed to be abrasive, ass-grinding dance music.

The abstract Japanese B-boy anchors each track with a solid, samey hip-hop beatscape. Listen closely and new shapes and tones manifest, like images appearing in a Rorschach blot, or colors blurring together on a Rothko canvas. Although the word “narcotic” is overused, it’s really the single most appropriate word for this nebulous, spaced-out trip through 17 tracks with the same beat. Keep the stereo cranked: You’ll need decibels to hear the gentle detail beneath the thundering bass.

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The warped “Escapee” begins the crooked journey with an acoustic bass track that contains enough complex scratchy record samples and off-center piano riffs to keep even the most impatient listener intrigued. Then it’s on to the minimalist, heavy “Inorganizm,” a window-rattling, roughneck sub-bass gem subtly layered with otherworldly atonal keyboard spirals. The orchestra-laden “Dawn” crescendos into a mean, drama-queen cello and saxophone duet. And the jazzy “1200″ plays up the sleepy dub mode with dreamy harpsichord samples, vague Indian drumming and a mellow plucked bass.

On one level, “Kakusei” sounds like DJ Krush holed up in a studio for one day with only one beat and a computer disk full of samples. But there’s actually a lot more going on in his pared-down sound. The deep bass lines carry the groove over the delicate layers, and the juxtaposition of hard onto soft will stifle even the widest down-tempo yawns.

Amanda Nowinski is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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