A (mostly) marvellous snapshot of a supreme production talent.
Mike Diver 2012-09-20
Speaking to BBC Music in October 2011, Josh Davis aka DJ Shadow remarked: “I struggle to understand some people's context when it comes to covering my music.” He’s seen responses to 2006’s The Outsider and 2011’s The Less You Know, the Better vary from faint praise to far worse. “The work of a man struggling to recall his motivations for making music,” said NME of The Less…, awarding it 5/10.
The problematic context: Shadow’s pioneering Endtroducing… LP of 1996, the first album to be composed entirely of samples (says Guinness World Records, anyway). Its success lay not in its constituents, but in how they were assembled – into a beautiful whole that, to many a listener, Shadow’s yet to better. It’s a regular on "albums to hear before you die"-style lists.
This double-disc best-of features plenty of material from the Endtroducing… era – and before it, too, with the inclusion of Lost and Found (S.F.L.), a cut from 1994 which didn’t feature beside the similar-vintage In/Flux on 1998’s Preemptive Strike. What did was Hindsight – then in its 12-minute guise, the track returns at half that length. These early creations showcase Shadow’s preference for prominent drums and smoky atmospherics, luxuriously languid grooves meandering through the mix.
The usual suspects from Endtroducing… are present: Midnight in a Perfect World opens disc 1 with measured drama; Building Steam With a Grain of Salt retains a spookiness between its scratches; and Organ Donor appears in its (High Noon EP-featured) “extended overhaul”. Blood on the Motorway, from 2002’s The Private Press, is a disc 1 highlight immediately followed by something of an understated gem from 2006, the Chris James-featuring You Made It.
Divine Intervention isn’t from a Shadow album at all – it appeared on the 1999 label compilation Quannum Spectrum – and two prominent tracks from the first UNKLE album are here, too: Rabbit In Your Headlights with Thom Yorke and the Richard Ashcroft-starring Lonely Soul. The previously unreleased Listen features renowned rock sideman Terry Reid, whose growly vocal dominates the piece. But the vocalists never fully overshadow the producer (no pun intended).
Reconstructed casts its net widely across Shadow’s career and pulls in a few cuts perhaps worth throwing back. But on the whole this is a marvellous snapshot of a supreme talent deserving of more respect than he’s been afforded in recent years.