Saturday, April 11, 2009

DJ Shadow's Endtroducing

In an otherwise capricious record industry, DJ Shadow is truly a real innovator who has gone on to forge an artistic track that is uniquely his own, as well as becoming a well-regarded luminary within the highly competitive mix-DJ business. Shadow, real name Josh Davis, was also one of the key advocates of the integration of visceral rock aesthetics and streetwise hip-hop stylings with other seemingly disparate genres, making him an authentic musical revolutionary.

Shadow's talents are diverse and competent: his turntable expertise is second to none, his sampling selections are logical, and his remixing methods are exciting and resourceful. However, Shadow really stands out by virtue of his production techniques: he has a natural ability for seamlessly blending disparate elements like guitar-rock, orchestral arrangements, synth-pop, post-bop jazz and street-level hip-hop into a singular mix that defied all common conventions.

Early-era singles like 'In/Flux' and 'Lost and Found' were audacious, genre-defying works, but it was Shadow's debut album, the superlative 'Endtroducing' from 1996, that really put his name on the map. The most striking thing about 'Endtroducing' was that it was entirely constructed from a variety of sampled sources, including old-school hip-hop, TV themes, prog-rock, psychedelic funk, polyrhythmic percussion tracks and both modal and cool jazz forms. Under the meticulous direction of Shadow, the album successfully introduced listeners to an endlessly absorbing, constantly shifting sonic landscape that sounded like nothing else that had come prior to it.

Now put out in the inevitable deluxe-reissue format, 'Endtroducing' is still a wholly fascinating beast, more than a decade after its initial release. The bonus disc is something titled 'Excessive Ephemera', and more or less lives up to its name, being a roughly cobbled-together collection of alternate takes, live renditions and demo versions that doesn't really amount to anything substantial. Therefore, it is the parent album that deserves a more detailed revaluation, given its historical stature.

Shadow's almost arrogant artistic confidence shines through forcefully over the course of the 13-track collection, and deservedly so, as well. Key tracks like 'The Number Song' and 'Mutual Slump' are hyper-energetic numbers that not only have Shadow's trademark electronic beats, but are also organised in endlessly fascinating, cleverly inventive hip-hop-informed arrangements, and injected with a healthy dose of rock firepower.

Meanwhile, the deliberately off-kilter 'Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain' resonates with death-defying, highly unorthodox time signatures, and 'Building Steam With a Grain of Salt' is a lumbering electro-blues monster armed with unidentified found-sound samples, an ominous orchestral backdrop and an insistent two-note piano loop.

Elsewhere, the slowly unfolding 'What Does Your Soul Look Like' dabbles in modulated trip-hop textures, and the theatrical 'Stem/Long Stem' is a masterful study in how well orchestral symphonics can merge with synth-pop sensibilities. The unrelenting 'Changeling' bristles with an array of multi-coloured sonic effects, and finally, the contemplative 'Midnight in a Perfect World' could well constitute the ultimate chill-out track, a moody, elegant thing with subdued soul-vocal samples, synth-string sweeps and appropriately nocturnal musical atmospherics.

As proven forcefully time and again, 'Endtroducing' has rightfully earned Shadow instant professional respect from all quarters concerned, and constitutes a key entry in a very selective list of groundbreaking debut albums. Shadow will never produce anything quite as dynamic, authoritative and mercurial as it again, and it's no overstatement to call it a true work of genius. As it stands, 'Endtroducing' remains an unparalleled achievement, for Shadow artistically and personally, and within rock-music history, as a bona fide landmark recording.


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