DJ Shadow’s albums have always functioned like stylistically far-flung mix-tapes pieced together with an internal logic that makes their cumulative effect outstrip their song-by-song merits. That fits Shadow’s cut-and-paste production methods, and it’s true even when—as on his first two albums, 1996’s Endtroducing and 2002’s The Private Press—the songs themselves can stand on their own. The Less You Know The Better, Shadow’s fourth record, also runs along those lines. The tracks leap freely from neo-new-wave rock (the Killers-like “Warning Call,” featuring British singer Tom Vek) to summer-breezy hip-hop (“Stay The Course,” with Posdnuos of De La Soul and Talib Kweli) to downcast folk-rock (“I’ve Been Trying,” with its vocal sampled from a notably bald-faced Bob Dylan imitator) to churning metal guitar riffs (“Border Crossing”) without showing much strain, particularly when heard in sequence.
But The Less You Know also feels inconsequential, sounding like the work of a man who has run out of ideas and is coasting along on craft. Which might be fine, except that so little of it actually sticks. The album’s grooves become herky-jerkier on later tracks, like the bumptious “I’m Excited,” featuring M.I.A. collaborator Afrikan Boy, and “Run For Your Life,” which swipes its groove wholesale from a well-known source, Miles Davis’ “What I Say,” from 1971’s Live-Evil. But they never break the album out of its polite rut.