DJ Shadow

Mo Wax, 1996


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Music history is peppered with albums that were influential but not commercially successful, albums that helped spawn genres yet were not perceived to be groundbreaking at the time. Endtroducing..... is such a beast, a disc that gets ranked repeatedly as one of the best albums of the 1990s but that the average person may never have heard of.

The main conceit behind the album is that it is entirely made up of samples. DJ Shadow plunges the depths of techno, electronic, jazz, hip-hop, movie and interview quotes and funk, then splices and splits the disparate pieces together to create a work of art. It's a sonic collage, but a seamless one, and it revolutionized both the concept of sampling and the role of DJ as artist.

That role has been blown to huge proportions in the 2000s, but the key to Endtroducing is Shadow's anonymity; instead of his ego or vocals serving the song (the way the sample-heavy Paul's Boutique did for the Beastie Boys), the song and mood comes first. Granted, this means there isn't a steady personality behind the album, which these days is meaningless but in 1996 really meant something. He didn't call himself "Shadow" for nothing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Critics of the disc say that, by not creating new music but rather mixing up existing tracks, DJ Shadow essentially did what anybody could do with a decent record collection, editing software and some time (Danger Mouse's The Grey Album proved that...if you haven't heard it, don't bother). But the beats and samples selected are so obscure and blended so well that the listener won't notice; it's a case of taking something existing and making something new, akin to the concrete musique cut-and-paste approach that Miles Davis (among others) used on Bitches Brew, although it was all his music.

Endtroducing can get tiresome over the course of its hour-long run time simply because its density requires careful attention. Yes, it can play in the background, but a fat bass riff, a spooky keyboard drone or a killer hip-hop will suddenly float in and grab the listener. "Changeling" is the best example of all three of those (featuring a Tangerine Dream sampel), but "Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt" is equally hypnotic, a stew of Tubular Bells-style piano, funk guitar, jazz drumming and a horror movie chorus. There was nothing else like this in the mid ‘90s, and it paved the way for countless electronic artists.

The disc hits its slow points in the middle with the endless "Stem/Long Stem" and the monotonous "What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4)," but gets back on track with the unsettling Bitches Brew-flavored "Mutual Slump," the brief interlude "Why Hip Hop Sucks in '96" (it's the money) and the dreamy low-end "Midnight In A Perfect World." The disc closes with "What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1)", which revisits earlier themes, adds some saxophone and then fades into a spacey drone and the repeated phrase "It is happening again" before stopping short.

Frankly, it's difficult in good conscience to rank this album so high simply because the material is a pastiche of existing artists, but this was the first of its kind, a musician who stayed out of the spotlight on his own album, taking others' works and turning them into something new. In lesser hands, via someone not raised on "vinyl culture" (as Shadow puts it in the liner notes), this would simply be a vanity project. Yet Endtroducing..... is elevated to art, one of the first true electronic albums and a compelling, if occasionally flawed, listen.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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