Don’t shy away from this album if:
- You’re not big on hip-hop collaborations.
- You don’t know heads or tails of the whole club music thing.
Allow me to disclose fully my own inability to channel club music as a listening experience.
I like drum ‘n’ bass and techno and what-not while I’m checking out bare-chested dancers in a gay bar, but I wouldn’t put any of that music in my stereo.
Zen, however, works outside of a club context, thanks largely to DJ Krush’s inate talent to impose a song structure to music that usually doesn’t call for any.
DJ Krush has usually been filed under “trip-hop”, a label imprecise for the kind of music Krush produces.
His collaboration with ACO and Twigy on the non-album single “Tragicomic” brought together dark, ethereal melodies, growling bass lines and two incredibly distinct vocal talents — ACO’s pouty singing, and Twigy’s Ebonic-inflected Japanese.
Zen follows that basic aesthetic, backing off a bit to be less intrusive, more atmospheric.
The music backing Black Thought on “Zen Approach” feels almost transparent. “Day’s End” fully integrates Kodama Kazufumi’s muted trumpet in a tapestry of restrained beats, classical guitars and glassy synthetic timbres.
Even the more aggressive tracks don’t feel heavy-handed.
“Vision of Art” does a fine job of housing Company Flow’s gauntlet-throwing raps in a lush arrangement that isn’t at all pushy. “Duck Chase” humorously sputters from abrupt start and stops but never loses a sense of proportion.
DJ Krush’s music works best when it draws inward. N’dea Davenport delivers a beautiful performance on “With Grace”. Boss Da MC infuses “Candle Chant” with a quick-paced momentum totally fitting with the track’s mellow vibe.
By squeezing his ambient textures into a more-or-less traditional verse-chorus-verse pattern, DJ Krush makes Zen accessible to listeners unfamiliar or intimidated by both hip-hop and electronica.
You don’t need to step into a dance club to figure out Zen is a remarkable work.