DJ Shadow - Reconstructed

Research has never been so much fun

The concept of the artefact is key to the
music DJ Shadow, aka Josh Davis,
manipulates, reissues and produces. Be it
long-forgotten funk cuts, radio spots, school
band LPs, proto-hip-hop cassettes or LPs
manufactured (then destroyed) by the Mafia,
having a rare recording in one’s hands – and
Davis’ ability to source such things – has
always been intrinsic to his appeal. He’s sent
collectors worldwide into states of apoplexy
and caused eBay prices to soar. More
importantly, the sum total of newly-exposed
music in the world has blossomed in the
25-plus years the Californian has been
making sounds.

So, the music inside this box set is vital.
Debut LP Endtroducing… remains a must-have,
and most honest fans’ highpoint.
Blending jazz, beats and atmospherics, it’s
claimed to be the first record constructed
entirely from samples (though Davis’ girlfriend
can be heard speaking about rollerskating).
In line with his three other studio albums it
sticks out, perhaps as only a debut album
can; keen to leapfrog the trip-hop subgenre,
Davis subsequently moved into poppier
territories. When it worked it was thrilling.
As RC’s Editor pointed out in his review of
2011’s The Less You Know The Better, the
latest album was a “grower” (with Scale It
Back being particularly worthy of comparison
to anything on Endtroducing…), benefiting
from having fresher raw materials that pushed
the envelope further (the vocals from Little
Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano are sublime).

So what’s missing? Well, unless they’re
exhaustive, box sets can only ever really
encourage further investigation. But the
Brainfreeze and Product Placement DJ sets
(the latter constructed solely with 7”s) with
Cut Chemist were peaks in the trajectory of
vinyl archaeology and turntablism, and
Davis’ work remixing or producing others is
also omitted, possibly for licensing reasons.
Not a great deal here pre-dates his signing
to Mo’ Wax in 1995, his work with Solesides
or the embryonics of his early cut-and-paste
days as documented on the recent Total
Breakdown compilation.

A live show from Glasgow in 2011 finds
Shadow pre-empting the current upswing in
American EDM by about six months. Even if it
sounds like Pendulum at points, there are
plenty of breathtaking moments where he
sweeps a noise around a room, spins a 12”
back to gasps from the audience, or drops an
a cappella over a distorted beat from a non-album
single or remix.

Reconstructed should rightfully be
cherishable. Pressed in a run of just 500
and signed by the man himself, it houses all
his albums, a DVD, a 12” of remixes and an
informed – if minutely printed – essay from
Dave Tompkins. The thing even glows in the
dark and includes a cloth for removing your
fingerprints. Trouble is, this hunk feels like
a slight let down. It’s a flawed artefact. The
plastic materials are rough and the glue has
already come unstuck on our copy. The CDs
don’t sit properly in their sleeves, and the
booklet, which was once speculated to
include photography from Shadow’s visual
cohort B+, delivers only the scantest
imagery and discographical detail. You may
think this is nit-picking, but consider that it’s
a box set aimed at vinyl fetishists who’ll
expect absolute perfection for the £170
asking price – especially since Island have
marketed it as the most expensive box set
they’ve ever produced.

Still, as far as the music’s concerned it’s
a thrilling journey sizeable enough to make an
impression on your shelf. Its success lies in
the exploratory recordings within. Perhaps
that means Reconstructed has done its job.
 

3 stars 3 stars 3 stars

Island | 3708138 (7-CD+DVD+12”)

Reviewed by Jake Kennedy
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