DJ Shadow debuts two new tracks
A decade and a half ago, DJ Shadow stopped the clocks at midnight. Had he kept the timepieces frozen for an entire career, it's unlikely that anyone would've complained. After all, his debut, "Endtroducing," was a timeless record that defined trip-hop's American variant and established a foothold for the genre of instrumental beat music.
Ask anyone from the Low End Theory crew to the dubstep spawn of Hyperdub and Hemlock Records, and it's likely that Shadow will be name-dropped as a primary influence. With his legacy long secured, Shadow could essentially tweak his old formula and conjure something that would neatly parallel the contemporary zeitgeist.
But through his lengthy delays between albums, his collaborations with Cut Chemist and his flirtations with hyphy on 2006's "The Outsider," the man born Joshua Davis has never retraced his footsteps. His latest two tracks (available for streaming only for the next 24 hours) bear his creative restlessness.
Intended for release on a yet untitled album due sometime next year, "Def Surrounds Us" is an eight-minute fire alarm of frantic ideas. A scratched vocal chants "def surrounds us" (or "death surrounds us," depending on how your ears hear it). Consisting of several mini-suites, it opens like an early British grime track before descending into subterranean bass lines and Benedictine-style chants. By its midpoint, it sounds like a house-inflected Kode9 or Actress production that could fit nicely into the contemporary bass music world. It then suddenly settles into a coda of a pretty piano lilt.
The other leaked track is the polar extreme, "I've Been Trying," which suggests that Shadow is doing anything and everything possible to avoid the genre labels that have perpetually dogged him. Channeling a rustic Laurel Canyon vibe, "I've Been Trying" sounds like one of the more fully formed outtakes from an early 1970s Stephen Stills record.
Combined, what's most clear is that the direction of Shadow's new record remains unclear. One can only speculate that Shadow has spent the last half-decade studying Ron Hardy, the "Run the Road" compilation, and maybe a little Poco.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Cut Chemist, left, and DJ Shadow photographed in 2006 for their Brainfreeze collaboration. Credit: Los Angeles Times.