The mid 1990s saw a boom in brilliant releases from EDM based music. DJ Shadow was not out of this trend, releasing this album, widely regarded as a classic. How does it stand up today? Let’s find out.
We begin with the nicely named Best Foot Forward which has a nice intro to the album. It sounds like an amazing pastiche of samples and scratching. It must be heard to be experienced, and is rather humourous. Less than a minute long, however.
The first real track here is Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt which begins with a piano riff, and some commentary to go along with it. It is a very unusual introduction to such a record. Some great Hip Hop beats then enter, along with some gospel singing. It is quite catchy, although sounding rather discordant musically. Some sampled talk about the Cancerian star sign is also here, oddly enough. This piece of music sounds very marvelous, and is a great piece of artistry. Some wah-wah funky guitar then is added to the mix. This is highly imaginative, and very, very consistent. The whole thing is enough to make your head nod in appreciation. The reoccurring piano riff then has its moment, before the beats come back into play. A great effort is here. Sampled speech about the nature of music is here, before the fade out occurs with the reoccurring piano. Nice tune.
The Number Song begins with some loud and aggressive beats and some bass to match it. It is very catchy, and super brilliant sounding. There are a huge amount of cleverly picked samples here and scratching here. This is great music, especially from a technical point of view. It is also catchy and interesting enough with many vocal samples from loads of older recordings here. It goes into a multitude of sections with great beats and musical sounds, before going back into the main section of beats and bass. It flows so nicely, and is super imaginative. It goes into what sounds like a sampled drum and cut up drum solo by DJ Shadow. It ends with a turntable sound of the track being stopped. Very nice, and very clever.
Changeling begins with some nicely sampled organ type sounds, before going into a classic cut up beat that sounds excellent. It is a good moment by DJ Shadow. Some extra nice scratched sounds come in, before a deep and dark basslines enters the track. It sounds really excellent, and is a showcase for DJ Shadow and his talent. The precision in the music here is spot on, every sound and sample has 100% effort placed into it. There are some melodic vocals and sounds to match the beats here, which are interesting. Some nicely sampled saxophone is here in the background, and we hear some interesting melodies. After some time, some ultra cut up sounds enter the scene, before going into a lush and great instrumental piece with saxophone and, what possibly could be, guitar. This has to be heard to be experienced, it is fantastic. It builds up to a load of ethereal sounds towards the end. Nothing short of masterful, this is awesome.
Next is Transmission 1 which has a lot of NASA style space talk in the background, before going into a strange mixture of sounds. Barely over 30 seconds, it is a connecting track between the main tracks of the album. Good to hear, however.
Following is What Does Your Soul Look Like – Pt. 4 which begins with dark, funky bass and calculated beats that are awesome. It’s a slow burner, but sounds great. This is a superb pastiche of artistic and excellent music. Some extra ethereal background sounds are gradually added throughout, including a lovely sounding saxophone being played. It’s pretty catchy too. Some distorted vocals come along for the ride. This is not your average album, this is a masterwork of sampled awesomeness that is superior to most efforts out there, no matter what the genre is. It builds up, in a very Underworld sort of way. Sounding dark and spacey towards the end, this is incredible and magical. It fades out nicely, great music.
Untitled is a short piece with some funky backing track and talking about female beauty, it is less than thirty seconds. Interesting nonetheless, especially to male listeners.
Stem / Long Stem – Medley comes next, and begins with some unusual and minor key stringed instrument playing, with some dark and moody sounds in the background. It is almost neo-classical in a way, and sounds really excellent. Eventually some well thought out and cut up beats enter the picture. Some samples come and take you by surprise, before going back into the main section of music. This is definitely melancholy territory and sounds full on and awesome. In the middle the first section ends, going silent for a little bit, before a repeated organ riff enters to capture your attention. The reoccurring melodies enter with some sampled speech, likely from a film, about a guy dealing with traffic offences and the consequences from that. It is a moody and emotional listen from DJ Shadow. Towards the end, the sounds combine and release in a sad sounding way. Towards the end, we have a unison of melody playing in a dark sense. Great melodramatic piece of music here.
Next is Transmission 2 which is somewhat lighter and is a one and a half minute section that bridges the other tracks together. Some very ethereal sounds are here, making it an interesting listen. Skillful, no doubt. This is artistry. Some NASA radio type speech is here at the end again.
Following is Mutual Slump which is similarly themed to what came just before it. Some crashing cut up drum beats are here, with some interesting melody samples in the background that are rather dark. There is a sample of a female USA lady talking, before going into the crashing beats and instrumentation again. Some talk from the lady about Darth Vader (from Star Wars) is here, before going into the catchy, somewhat discordant piece resumes again. Towards the end, some brilliant artistic cut up sounds are deployed to full effect. Nice piece of music.
Organ Donor comes next, with a funk track being briefly sampled, before an organ riff enters, along with some bass and beats. It gets progressively more melodic throughout, and is an interesting listen. Amazing what a DJ can do with beats and samples ready to be deployed, this is excellent. It is less than two minutes, but is good to hear, even today.
Why Hip-Hop Sucks In ’96 is a strange set of samples of Hip Hop music that is less than a minute long. It connects the main pieces of music together nicely..
Next is Midnight In A Perfect World which has some excellent keyboard samples and background vocals, before some incredibly good cut up beats come along. It is beautiful and wonderfully precise, and is a top listen. Making machine based music an emotional listen, DJ Shadow shows that he is a grand creator of great music and cut up melodicism. This is a really top effort, and this song is no different. Some piano parts and other sounds mix with the organ samples. A lovely female singer then comes along towards the end for the ride. Cut up vocals towards the end are interesting, and the track ends with a ticking clock.
After that is Napalm Brain / Scatter Brain – Medley which begins with a sample from a movie or TV series which is interesting. Shortly throughout, beats kick in and we have a killer track. This is a nine minute long piece, so hold on tight and here we go. The beats and bass are excellently chosen for this track, with both being well chosen. The sound of rain then enters, and thunder too. The cut up beats are matched by sonic breaks that are awesome. This is a wonderful sounding piece, and has a huge array of cleverly placed sounds and samples within. Some nastily awesome wah-wah guitar is here too. Some wind chime sounds come in, before some very excellent and suspenseful beats then come along. This is amazing sounding, and the beats collectively are built up and released in an energetic way. The whole piece is done near to perfection, and sounds like many months (or years) of hard work was placed into these tracks. Some eerie strings enter next, and this track is indescribably good. The beats and catchy melodies continue towards the end of the track, before the strings take centre place with some background acoustic guitar. Some extra beats arrive at the end, before fading out. Brilliant.
What Does Your Soul Look Like – Pt. 1 / Blue Sky Revisit begins with radio transmission speeches, and some unusual sounding melodies then enter the scene. There are some discordant noises than enter, prior to saxophone coming on through. Some melancholy singing comes along, before loud beats comes straight in. This is a superb masterwork that sounds excellent. Other sounds build up, particularly in the background of this track to surprise and entertain you. The whole thing is a masterful and excellent effort, with a great listening experience here. The track progresses nicely, and a male singing voice enters, before hitting the next section of this track. Admittedly, this is a little repetitive, but not so much that it will bore you. A supreme effort, and fades out gently.
Transmission 3 is the last track here, and has the NASA radio talk again. It has some ethereal noises in it as well. “It is happening again,” is a sampled voice to end the track, and album. A great listen indeed.
This is a genuinely good album, being not only highly original, but also showing the masterful work of DJ Shadow and his ability to create great electronic music. For those of you who really wish to hear something modern and different, check this out. You will not be disappointed.