Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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DJ Shadow

  • Endtroducing . . . DJ Shadow [Mo Wax/FFFR, 1996] A+
  • Preemptive Strike [Mo Wax/FFFR, 1998] *
  • The Private Press [MCA, 2002] A
  • Live! In Tune and On Time [Geffen, 2004] A-
  • The Outsider [Universal, 2006] Dud
  • The Mountain Will Fall [Mass Appeal, 2016] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Endtroducing . . . DJ Shadow [Mo Wax/FFFR, 1996]
Armed with a sampler, a sequencer, and the black plastic he gave up trying to catalogue in 1989, 24-year-old Josh Davis of Davis, California and London, England distills everything he loves about drumbeats, symph-schlock, and oddball Americana into a 63-minute work with a beginning, a middle, and a to-be-continued. Some under a minute, some over nine, the 13 tracks are designed for headphones--Apollonian even if beat-driven, their only vocals spoken-word and comedy samples that accrue a mysterious fascination without ever revealing their relevance to each other or anything else. Except, that is, for the 30-second intro to the six-minute "Building Steam With a Grain of Salt," in which a square, self-taught drummer explains himself as a reassuring crackle attests to his vinyl authenticity down in the mix: "I'd like to just continue to be able to express myself as best as I can. And I feel like I'm a student of the drums. And I'm also a teacher." And then he chuckles nervously. And then Davis loops that chuckle for a second or two, making of it music and chaos and satire and self-mockery and music all at once. A+

Preemptive Strike [Mo Wax/FFFR, 1998]
his best was better the first time ("In/Flux," "Organ Donor [Extended Overhaul]"). *

The Private Press [MCA, 2002]
Accusing Josh Davis of repeating himself is like bitching that Between the Buttons came after Aftermath--or that Light in August begat Absalom, Absalom! Sui generis masterpiece--which for all its influence has never been replicated, much less topped--then excellent effort in the same sui genre. The overall effect is less grand than that of Endtroducing six years ago, popper and rocker and r&ber. But an overall effect there is, grounded in Shadow's trademark-tremendous bass 'n' drum, which, among many other things, recontextualizes small-timer big talk from the prophet rock of Colonel Bagshot's "Six Day War" to the gangsta rap of Hollywood's "Gangster Rap." If only those schmos had taken their music higher, Shadow believes, we might have glimpsed the beauty and profundity within them. He's wrong. But he mounts quite an argument. A

Live! In Tune and On Time [Geffen, 2004]
Recombinant is the idea with any DJ, but who'd expect even Shadow to make a live album worth hearing twice? Yet this hits-and-obscurities set is cannier than that of rock bands with twice as many titles to choose from: pieces of Endtroducing and Private Press reconfigured to mesh with pieces of Preemptive Strike and Psyence Fiction while and generating the same old illusion of inevitability. Sounded so right it got me to watch the bonus DVD version. Some of it, anyway--better his wrists and fingers than the superimposed film clips of freeway traffic and such assembled for the ticket buyers. A-

The Outsider [Universal, 2006] Dud

The Mountain Will Fall [Mass Appeal, 2016]
His best since The Private Press is a sound effects record by comparison, heavy on first-rate texture, rumble, and of course beats ("Nobody Speak," "The Mountain Will Fall," "Mambo") ***