Mutual Slump

The Mixed Blessings of DJ Shadow's Creative Restlessness

Mutual Slump


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DJ Shadow's first few years' worth of music were so godlike, it's not surprising that his work has slowly declined from those towering achievements. Shadow (aka Josh Davis) launched his production career with some of the most advanced sample-collaging ever committed to tape with the early singles and EPs collected on Preemptive Strike and 1996's consensus classic Endtroducing...... The deep concentration, diligent digging (pre–"everything ever recorded's on the internet" era), and sophisticated arranging skills involved to manifest these tracks continue to astonish listeners and inspire producers. As I've written before about the 1995 EP What Does Your Soul Look Like, Shadow "could've retired after releasing this multifarious suite and still entered the pantheon of immortals."

Unfortunately, Shadow's post-Endtroducing output has fluctuated erratically in quality, with both moves away from his hiphop/triphop roots into songwriterly, sometimes bombastic rock and toward au courant (at the time) hiphop and electronic subgenres like hyphy and dubstep. The Private Press (2002) was a solid sophomore full-length, but after a six-year gap during which he focused on UNKLE's 1998 debut LP, Psyence Fiction, and scoring the soundtrack to 2000's Dark Days, Shadow was expected to deliver more next-level greatness, which did not happen. The Outsider (2006) flailed in many directions, dabbling with über-amped hyphy, electric blues, punk, bland stadium pop, and even psychedelic folk on "What Have I Done" with Charalambides' Christina Carter. Let's call it an interesting failure.

One thing's certain, though: You can't accuse Shadow of hastily pushing out product. Each opus he issues represents years of carefully constructed work into which he's poured his soul. But with last year's The Less You Know, the Better, many listeners and critics thought that Shadow may have lost the plot for good. A mishmash of middling hard rock, sentimental balladry, pompous spoken word, and workmanlike hiphop, The Less You Know seemed hell-bent on avoiding Shadow's strengths. Ironically, the best track—an eerie, wonky-rhythmed instrumental—is titled "Tedium."

Nevertheless, Davis is a deft live entertainer whose Shadowsphere show in 2010 almost rivaled Amon Tobin's ISAM for spectacular synchronization of audio and visual elements. That being said, if Shadow decided to channel all of his energy into spinning 7-inch 45s in front of a white screen, he'd still be a major concert draw, as he's among the most dazzling selectors ever to cue up a track. recommended


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michijo 1
I remember when I went to art school I encountered numerous little uppermiddle class white boys who listened to this. But if you really step back, it all just sounds so melo-dramatic. Middle class white boys get "serious" with the "turntable". I am glad I never ever fell victim for that scene.
Posted by michijo on April 22, 2012 at 3:55 PM · Report this
Posted by michijo on April 22, 2012 at 3:58 PM · Report this
“when i went to art school” you are a dork. and you don’t know shit.
Posted by benjamy on April 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM · Report this
"when i went to art school i was a total duchebag"
Posted by privilaged white duche on April 24, 2012 at 8:11 AM · Report this
michijo 5
@3 whatever, you and your wannabe middle class hiphop whiteboys need to get real fast. That dork is just some little shit from San Jose. All dubbings and loops. Yeah, it sounds real "deep" when you dub someone's voice over some crappy loop. Now go back home and live with your parents and smoke grass. You are the dope. I think his "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" is quite telling: he built up a bunch of shit from nothing, hollow on the inside, seemingly heavy on the out.
Posted by michijo on April 24, 2012 at 8:13 AM · Report this
calm down, art school.
Posted by artdude on April 24, 2012 at 8:40 AM · Report this
michijo 7
I highly regret going to art school. I am proudly an English teacher now and work with REAL African immigrants who need vital assistance with English. You on the other hand just pretend to be "black" without actually seeing the bigger picture. Art is just a well-deserved hobby that I engage in, one which I refuse to give up for you negative hip-hop, kasimir malevich, negative, basquiat-faking, pseudo-New-Yorkers.
Posted by michijo on April 24, 2012 at 10:35 AM · Report this
Proud Faggot 8
I grew up a poor white kid and find Shadow's music to be extremely influential on a daily basis. He's a legend for a reason...

Also, please michijo, do us all a favor next time and keep your mouth shut on topics such as the art form of turntablism. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about and you are just making yourself look like an ass here...
Posted by Proud Faggot on April 24, 2012 at 1:17 PM · Report this
michijo 9
@8 I didn't choose my roommates in school, and I had to live in a two bedroom with 3 other guys, and they all listened to DJ Shadow. One had his own turntables. I think it was a big mistake. All three were from upper-middle class backgrounds in the suburbs of smaller cities. It goes without saying that the angry black white boy has taken GrandMaster Flash's turntable from the South Bronx and turned it into some little suburban wet dream. We would all be better off without this pop-cultural phenomenon. My favorite of course is DJ Lambchops. DJ lambchops "rules the school"!…
Posted by michijo on April 24, 2012 at 1:31 PM · Report this
im sure art school regrets you also.
Posted by trollon on April 24, 2012 at 1:37 PM · Report this
oh look its an inane argument over class in the first world
Posted by grace on April 24, 2012 at 2:45 PM · Report this
michijo 12
@11 What I am discussing is not class but American cliches. In this case the stoney-faced west-coast white hiphop artist is the cliche in question. More and more I think there is some kind of oppression coming from popular culture and the mass media with these figure-heads, a popular culture dictatorship, with DJ shadow as one of the Gestapo.
Posted by michijo on April 24, 2012 at 5:43 PM · Report this
cool DJ!
I like him! :)
Posted by AdrianoChill on April 24, 2012 at 6:57 PM · Report this

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