Rarely do album titles speak so poignantly and honestly about the age they are created in. The names can come from family, life situations or seemingly a random word generator. With a world burning and authoritarians ruling over an increasing number of democracies, there is a time to examine what the hell is happening around us. DJ Shadow is doing just that with his new album, poetically titled Our Pathetic Age.
The album is split into two different parts – one instrumental and the second with vocal features. The first is almost entirely instrumental, though “Rosie” does offer something different with someone chanting at points in the record. The first half helps prep you for the madness on the second. It is DJ Shadow’s own personal way of examining the world without relying on the perspective of his vocalists and rappers.
It starts out with the dystopian and distorted “Nature Always Wins,” a sharp reminder that nature is not a tamable beast, despite human’s best efforts to control it. He examines that disconnect even further with “Slingblade” that slowly descends into maddening synth lines that get faster and faster, while still keeping a certain elegance. This leads into the dark and foreboding “Weightless.” “Juggernaut” is the type of gritty hip-hop beats that we expect from him over his long career. Once primed with the instrumentals, Shadow and co. get down to serious business on the second half of the album.
Reuniting once again after “Systematic” on This Mountain Will Fall, Nas & DJ Shadow come right out of the gate on part two with a powerful record that channels boom bat hip-hop, robotic 80’s electronic beats and Nas’ smooth flow.
Then he tabs a trio of New York legends, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon and Ghostface Killa on “Rain On Snow” which uses an eerie break to add more heft to the verses from the rappers. The New York legends keep on coming with the classic sounding and funky “Rocket Fuel” with De La Soul. “C.O.N.F.O.R.M” takes on the obsession with social media, consumerism and the dangers of the internet.
Run The Jewels go in on some heavy topics with El-P talking about his grandmother drinking herself to death and Killer Mike thinking back to when his mom stabbed a drug dealer before dropping him off at school.
The examination of the digital world continues as one of the central themes on this record (look at the cover art) in a call to action to sort out your online presence and see how you are being monitored with “Urgent, Important, Please Read.”
There are a few soulful and more subdued records like “Dark Side Of The Heart” and the LP title track “Our Pathetic Age,” which has a little extra funk in the drums. As one should expect, Pusha T crushes his verses, celebrating greatness like Kawhi and Tom Brady.
DJ Shadow pulls no punches when examining our society today. It is common to look at internet and social media obsession, but it is rare for artists to use both dark, despairing and haunting instrumentals with potent lyrics. That is the power of DJ Shadow’s artistry and the platform he has. Get your copy here.