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.

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.

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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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