Perhaps DJ Shadow thought his last album, 1996's Endtroducing , was so ultramodern that he could just wait until people caught up with it before he came out with another disc. He was right -- it was. And more than five years later, the long winter is over. It's time once again for the DJ who was born Josh Davis to come out from under his pile of records, look for his shadow and inform us forward-thinking fans of the blue skies that are ahead.
Although he's done other things (production work, the side project U.N.K.L.E.) since the release of Endtroducing, Shadow has mostly been biding his time, further solidifying his rep as the closest thing to a perfectionist and eccentric genius that the DJ movement has. Any form of beat-nut, from sample freaks to technoheads to people who just wanna dance, could consume this inventive concoction without complaint.
With The Private Press, Shadow proves that, after all these years, he hasn't lost touch with his musical precision. "This tight collection gets bigger every minute," a random dude says at the beginning of one track, and it's no mere boast. Conceptual overachiever that he is, Shadow has crammed a lot of meaty work into this relatively small compilation, and for good reason. Much as Endtroducing was Shadow's groove-laden treatise on saving hip-hop, Press is Shadow sweeping in and rescuing underground dance music from its often narcissistic, lethargic self. Ambient, trip-hop, drum-'n'-bass, even electro synth-pop get much-needed resuscitation thanks to Shadow and his cut-and-paste compositions.
"Walkie Talkie" is pure hip-hop declaration, with Shadow getting in touch with his inner old-school cut-creator. "Mashin' on the Motorway," which uses some hilarious live vocals from Lateef the Truth Speaker and others, is a manic, two-step bopper that's heavy on the upright bass. "Monosylabik," as nervy as it is addictive, is simply Shadow tinkering with beats and sounds. And "Six Days" is Press's most socially aware track, a moody trip through ambient psychedelia that samples the vocals of "Six Day War" from the obscure '60s Liverpool group Colonel Bagshot. Here's how Shadow addresses post-9/11 trauma: "You could be sitting taking lunch / The news will hit you like a punch / It's only Tuesday."
But what Press hips listeners to most is the vitality of vinyl, and no one preaches that gospel more subtly and cleverly than Shadow. Shadow shows how records are more than just raw material for turntablists to exploit. In his hands, they become fragments of recorded history, ripe for incorporation into the modern (and postmodern) music of today. For example, bookending Press are 50-year-old excerpts from a woman dictating a letter in a public booth where people could record messages on 45s for use as vinyl snail mail. For a guy like Shadow, something old is something new; something mundane can be recontextualized into something exotic.
You get a sense of trust from listening to DJ Shadow. Unlike with most DJs, you know you're not gonna get some self-deluded, pretentious tangents or tired, repetitious jags. Instead, you hear a man whose confidence gleams like the gold teeth on a Cash Money Millionaire. All the listener should do is be thankful that Shadow is still out there, giving us his orchestral maneuvers in the dark.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.