366 Songs 239: I’ve Been Trying

DJ Shadow is someone whom I continually find frustratingly uneven; so much of his work feels self-indulgent and lacking the presence and beat that I want from it, and then he’ll turn out something like this, one of the lead-in tracks from his 2011 album The Less You Know, The Better. There’s a freshness and simplicity to this song that always appeals, a sound that sounds under-produced and almost live-to-tape despite being constructed entirely from samples, combined with a lyric that’s at once lovelorn and funny. “I’ve been trying/To get you to love me/I’ve been trying/To get you to care/Put forth a lot of effort,” the unnamed vocalist complains, sounding as if it’s been a chore trying to woo his unrequited beloved, the unspoken sense of “C’mon, you owe me” just under the surface.

Add to that the more produced parts of the song – By the time the flute enters around 1:51, I am always inexplicably reminded of Hall and Oates; I wish I could understand why – and this becomes a wonderfully unexpected comedy track of sorts, set off with the “Hi, kitten. This one’s for you” smarmy sample that comes in just before the vocal begins. When Shadow is on – and it feels as if he’s definitely on in this song, which works on multiple levels – he can be fantastic. I just wish he was on more often.