DJ Shadow is Back with a Vengeance: Maybe

Brian Josephs sleeps with the lights on to avoid being white-appropriated. With all the pints of ink that’s been used to dissect it, it’s easy to forget to take a step back in awe at the fact...
By    August 19, 2014

63a17cf5Brian Josephs sleeps with the lights on to avoid being white-appropriated.

With all the pints of ink that’s been used to dissect it, it’s easy to forget to take a step back in awe at the fact that Endtroducing… was made by a twentysomething-year-old human with a bunch of samples. DJ Shadow’s masterwork is an otherworldly one, the likes of which you can image the undocumented punkish b-aliens from that Daft Punk video enjoying. Yet, it’s so aware or our natural need for thrills. Remember that sudden change from the stargazing “Building Steam With a Grain of Salt” to “The Number Song’s” mix of visceral feedback and da funk? What about the restrained violence of that cello in the deeply nocturnal “Midnight in a Perfect World?” Sheeiitt.

But again, Endtroducing… already has its written paeans. Life’s too fast to simply reminisce and repeat. One day you’re a college freshman being amazed at “Long Stem,” and soon, you’re doing a double take at this headline as it scrolls through your Twitter feed: “DJ Shadow Releases Liquid Amber EP for Free Download.” Click. Then some variation of this question pops into your head: “Is DJ Shadow back with that real?” Well, the new project – which features two new DJ Shadow cuts and a “Six Days” remix – moves pretty quick. That’s not referring to its timespan; the first new tracks feel like a multi-genre blitzkrieg on human id. It’s a small rush and success, but it finds DJ Shadow at his worst habits. Rather than meld the influences, DJ Shadow corrals them to mixed effect.

We’ll call DJ Shadow 1-for-2 here, with that one being the capricious “Ghost Town.” Where it lacks in climaxes, the Liquid Amber opener makes up for in unpredictability. A doomsday synth and tick gives way to a drum pattern’s schizophrenic Buddy Rich impression. The track’s elements — which DJ Shadow says is, “micro-genres within the Future Bass umbrella” — come together after the neck-wringing vocal sample sets the tone, inciting a mix of neon lit floss and urgency. Savor and repeat. But the momentum breaks with the haphazard “Mob,” which uses wonky effects and a colorless syncopated drum pattern to no real build — quirkiness sans the joy. Of the track, DJ Shadow said it was an “intentionally stripped-down, Cali-certified head-nodder.” Fair enough. It kind of feels like what’s essentially 33 percent of the EP should have a sense of purpose, though.

In a way, the mixed bag nature of Liquid Amber is an example of DJ Shadow’s consistent ambition. It’s not that he’s been bad in the years following Endtroducing… — he has highlights like “Six Days,” “Dark Days” and production work on Unkle’s Psyence Fiction. But with his desire to not simply repeat his debut, he’s transformed himself from an intergalactic curator to, well, a DJ. He’s been stretching his arms around different genres with not enough of regard for cohesion, instead of using his natural genius (you can’t learn how to do Endtroducing…) to let the disparate fragments build into something distinctive — something singular. It’s been done with the slowly burning “Six Days,” which leaves Machinedrum with more than enough space to create an immediately engulfing rework. Ironically, a revisit is the highlight of a project that comes with the announcement of DJ Shadow’s new label — the start of the future.

DJ Shadow says the new label, which shares the EP’s name, will start a stream of new music. “I’m going to try to keep it low-key and fun,” he added. It’s a frustrating tease because there are so many bigger descriptors to aim for. Liquid Amber shows the pieces are at least there.

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