In interviews, Japanese turntablist DJ Krush has criticized Japanese hip-hop aficionados for trying too hard to imitate American rappers by tanning, wearing dark foundation, dreading their hair and rhyming about ghettos and gangstas when they know nothing of either. So it's strange that on much of his new album DJ Krush sublimates his moody, intricate sonic textures to the clichid grandstanding of second-rate guest MCs. Maybe Krush, who doesn't speak English, doesn't realize how lame some of the raps are compared to the hypnotic beats he lays under them. The unimaginative refrain to "Real," for instance, goes, "It's all about cash and diamond rings/Dedicated, cause real niggers do real things."
DJ Krush gives all of his guests here a chance to muse conversationally about the future: 13 of the album's 28 tracks are half-minute nuggets of millennial wisdom like, "I think substance will overpower hype. I think shit will be made real," from Stash, and "To me the future's gonna be a scary thing. If you don't want to face it, just get high, get bent and let it come and go, whatever, that's my fucking philosophy," from Tragedy.
Such mindless stoner bon mots distract from what would otherwise be a deliciously narcotic groove. When Krush puts his DJ skills at the forefront, the results are layered and plush, if sometimes lacking in variety. Almost all of the songs start with the rolling lowrider beats and ominous horror-show vibe that's come to characterize trip-hop, but DJ Krush stands out from the rest of the genre-come-latelies because of his mix's dense complexity. Elements bubble up as if from underwater -- a lone, plaintive trumpet, a twittering bird, a bit of hymn, a crystalline swirl of bells -- and then disappear like the impact rings when you throw a rock in a pond. The nine-and-a-half minute "Le Temps," for example, is layered and gurgling, with sudden "Space Invaders"-style beeps and bright chimes streaking through like comets. Guest DJ Cam's voice is just another element, a watercolor wash of sound sliding over the roiling beats.
There are also two tracks with female soul singers, one of whom, Deborah Anderson, is either Portishead's Beth Gibbons using a pseudonym or someone who's trying frighteningly hard to turn into her -- the song could easily be off the band's eponymous new album. But the other woman, Eri Ohno (who sings on "Mind Games"), has a voice like none I've ever heard. Rough, smoky and dissolute, it snakes lasciviously around the lyrics like a lusty succubus. It's a marriage of cabaret-style diva glamour and hip-hop grooves that legions of acid-jazz wannabes try for, but few ever get right.