Japanese electronic music and hip-hop producer DJ Krush has had a long and varied career. From his early ’90s origins as a prodigious turntablist on the streets of Tokyo, to a decade later finding himself in collaboration with such underground hip-hop mainstays as Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif, DJ Krush has cultivated a uniquely approach to hip-hop. His work is atmospheric, heavily jazz-inflected, and ultimately unimitatable approach to instrumental hip-hop (and various forms of electronic music). And that has established him as one of the most highly regarded producers in the genre, both in Japan and abroad. While he has had limited mainstream success, his status in the global hip-hop underground is undeniable, and he has maintained an enthusiastic international cult following for close to two decades.
With his status as a legend essentially solidified at this point, DJ Krush has found himself in something of a slump in terms of quality of output these last few years. His most recent pre-2018 works, namely the predominately trip-hop “Butterfly Effect” and the feature-heavy “Kiseki,” while by no means being terrible albums, have had lukewarm receptions at best.
“Kiseki” found Krush ostensibly attempting to create a more traditional hip-hop album, with his beats taking a subdued backseat to an assortment of Japanese rappers. “Butterfly Effect” showed Krush experimenting with a far more conventional sort of trip-hop production than that for which he is largely known; the former album ended up feeling like it was less a DJ Krush album and more an unremarkable compilation album of other artists, while the latter album found itself in the unfortunate company of any number of inoffensive quasi-elevator music, instrumental trip-hop records, the sort of which plagued all too much of the ’90s. Looking back at his recent string of forgettable works, DJ Krush’s most recent outing “Cosmic Yard” is a breath of fresh air.
Overused as a descriptor though it may be, from the outset “lush” seems the only appropriate term for the overall composition of “Cosmic Yard.” Gentle, echoing piano trills atop deep, sustained synthesizer tones erupt in a pronounced mellow haze from the opening drum patterns of “Regulus,” immediately decrying any criticism of withdrawn minimalism that one accustomed to DJ Krush’s earlier work may have had for the album.
Krush may have in the past created some of his greatest art within a strictly minimalist vein, but the bulk of “Cosmic Yard” instead showcases his affinity for the denser and more proudly cinematic side of trip-hop convention, informed directly by some of the best of the genre’s ’90s golden age.
“Cosmic Yard’s” sample pallet is deep and vast, and perpetually accentuated by hip-hop drum arrangements that are simultaneously explosive and deliberate. And as per usual, jazz instrumentation plays a huge role in Krush’s creative voice, with tracks like “Habitable Zone (Chapter 1)” and “Sporadic Meteor” (featuring avant-garde jazz musician Toshinori Kondo) being marked declarations about the sheer power that brass instruments possess in relation to electronic production; (“Cosmic Yard” may not be as explicitly jazz-centric as some of Krush’s previous work, but his immense affection for myriad forms of jazz music is no less notable throughout.)
Ultimately the entire album is expertly and precisely crafted at every turn, with no one element feeling remotely out of place; and while in the hands of a less creative artist, this could result in an album staid and overly workmanlike (such is common with many older producers who are entirely too aware of their own technical prowess) under the care of Krush, “Cosmic Yard” is simply an unashamedly sleek and expertly powerhouse of post-’90s trip-hop, in all its atmospheric lushness.
To be certain, no new sonic ground is really broken throughout the album’s duration, but innovation need not be a prerequisite to good music. DJ Krush has a career already brimful with groundbreaking music from the early 90s onward; in a way it is almost refreshing to hear Krush lend his unique voice to sounds and styles which are already familiar, and to do so with such a level of tact and confidence as he does throughout “Cosmic Yard”.
There are no real surprises here, just a wholly enjoyable collection of masterfully crafted music by one of the best in the genre.