DJ Shadow, Endtroducing
Too accomplished to argue with
It doesn't take long for Endtroducing to show its hand. It happens during the second track and first real piece of music. "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt," DJ Shadow titles the composition, and that tells you something straightaway — that he likes Charles Mingus, probably, but also that he considers himself an alchemist. Not simply in the sense that he sampled all his music (apart, on this album, from a few voices from friends, such as Gift of Gab's on "Midnight in a Perfect World"), but that he wanted to create something else, something of its own, that supercedes its details. But the real point of no return occurs several minutes into the piece, when the drums start buckling. They skitter and scatter, playing some new, impossible time signature seemingly every bar, and far from a cluttered display of technique, it's breathtaking and immediate. It's also Shadow's way of showing us just how ambitious he, and this album, really both are.
Music criticism's most-abused word of the '90s may have been "cinematic." Endtroducing earns that title because it's so obsessively detail-oriented. Tracks that seem to detour into blind alleys come out the other side transformed — see the multiple shifts of the nine-and-a-half-minute climax "Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain," or the way "The Number Song" shifts between differing kinds of party anthems. In some ways, "Changeling" is the ultimate Mo' Wax record, full of rapt attention to tone and feel: keyboards like chalky liquid, cymbals that reverberate roundly. And the sequencing is so immaculate that even the sour-grapes 42-second "Why Hip Hop Sucks in '96" ("It's the money") fits snugly into its surroundings. Not a lot about this album seems to show its age. It's too accomplished to argue with.