Sampling pioneer DJ Shadow’s back catalogue is so consistently inventive that it would appear to be virtually impossible for one 16-track compilation to represent his exhausting genre-splicing sound.
However, released sixteen years after his first offering, Endtroducing, changed the face of instrumental hip-hop, Reconstructed: The Best Of DJ Shadow (due on shelves Sept. 3) makes a pretty good attempt at it.
Ignoring the temptation to focus mostly on his ground-breaking opus (a Guinness World Record holder for being the first album created using only sampled sounds), the California-based producer wisely gives equal billing to all four of his full-length efforts, allowing those unfamiliar with his less celebrated later work to discover just how imaginative he is.
Indeed, the melancholic trip-hop of “Midnight In A Perfect World,” the eerie harp-led “Stem” and the robotic breakbeat of “Organ Donor” prove that DJ Shadow’s innovative 1996 debut has undoubtedly stood the test of time. As has 2002’s The Private Press judging by its three inclusions here, particularly “Blood On The Motorway,” which borrows the piano hook from Patti Smith’s “Pissing In A River” to produce a gorgeously ambient soundscape.
But there’s also plenty to admire elsewhere. 2006’s The Outsider may have alienated some of his hardcore fans with its off-kilter ventures into indie-rock and punk, but its inspired 70s soul pastiche, “This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way),” is arguably Shadow’s greatest single. Meanwhile, the Dylan-aping folk of “I’ve Been Trying” and the stunning quiet storm of “Scale It Back” from 2011’s The Less You Know, The Better show he can be just as convincing when he eschews his whirlwind of sounds for something a little more conventional.
Away from his studio albums, “Dark Days” is a suitably claustrophobic Morricone-esque number taken from the soundtrack of the same named-documentary about an abandoned section of the New York underground railway. The creepy cinematic “High Noon” is the only cut from his 1998 rarities collection, Pre-Emptive Strike, while the Richard Ashcroft-featuring “Lonely Soul” is the standout from Psyence Fiction, the critically-acclaimed LP he recorded as part of collaborative project Unkle.
The two new tracks, “Listen” and “Won’t You Be,” are disappointingly pretty much DJ Shadow on autopilot. But overall, Reconstructed is an always intriguing and regularly captivating collection which more than justifies his cutting-edge reputation.