We’re going to do two reviews a week here – one of a new album (less than a year old) and one of an older album. We also thought it’d be cool if our reviews took the form of a discussion, with humor and personality, rather than a dry essay. Our throwback album review this week is of DJ Shadow’s 1996 album Endtroducing… Click “continue reading” to check it out.
DJ Shadow is a veteran underground hip-hop producer, and one of the progenitors of the instrumental hip-hop movement. Endtroducing… is his debut album, and is considered by many to be a classic. He creates the album almost exclusively using samples gathered from very diverse sources.
Zen: I think it’s about that time.
Oscar: Word. So, why did you pick this album?
Zen: I’ve heard repeatedly how it’s an amazing album that everyone should listen to. How it’s a classic. How it defined a certain sound. And most recently I read a Pitchfork review that gushed with love and gave it a 10 out of 10. This ignited a burning fire in me to hear the album and strongly disagree with Pitchfork.
Oscar: Good reason. And what did you end up thinking?
Zen: I wanted to disagree with Pitchfork a lot more than I did. A lot of it I dug, but I would by no means give it a 10 out of 10.
Zen: Fun fact: I did some research on the album, and literally everything is sampled and done from vinyl.
Oscar: Really? That’s impressive.
Zen: Incredibly impressive. And I think that needs mentioning because before I gripe about the stuff I didn’t like, that must have been a ridiculous amount of time and effort spent in picking samples that went well together and were in the same key.
Zen: What were your thoughts?
Oscar: I wasn’t a fan. I recognize the skill and the effort that went into it, that comes through very clearly, but ultimately it’s just a production style that I’m not a fan of. Regardless of whether there are rappers on it or not.
Zen: Make some room so I can hop in on that boat.
Oscar: It’s my opinion that a lot of late-90s, early-mid-’00s underground hip-hop achieves some very intellectually impressive stuff but at the cost of soul.
Zen: That’s an interesting opinion.
Oscar: It’s why I can’t fully get into stuff like this or Atmosphere or Aesop Rock. But I also haven’t tried too hard, so that may be an ignorant opinion.
Zen: I think listening to this entire album counts as definitely giving that style a shot. One of the things I disagreed most with Pitchfork (god that feels so good to say) was that they think the album reaches a spiritual level and transcends mere beat making. At best while listening I thought, “Oh, pretty dope drums. Really cool sample. Now, motherfucker please, stop repeating for 9 minutes.”
Oscar: Exactly. The whole thing could have been a 30 minute mixtape in my opinion.
Zen: I think it would have worked better that way. Another thing I want to say in regard to you thinking it lacks soul is that the album reminded me of a visit to a museum I had last year. One of the exhibits was done by a woman who would take incredibly detailed pictures of boats and lakes and then reproduce them, in every detail, with pencil.
Zen: While the whole thing stunk of superb technique, I couldn’t help thinking, “What’s the point? You’re not bringing anything new to the image.” They say this album defined a sound, but I really just heard it as a collection of sometimes well produced hip-hop beats
Oscar: I don’t know if I necessarily agree. I mean it did kick off the whole instrumental hip-hop thing. Like, I hear a lot of it in early RJD2 and stuff. Nujabes even. I don’t think it was ever badly produced, it’s just a stylistic thing for me really.
Zen: That’s fair but I’m not a huge fan of those cats. They file under the category of people I wish would at least put something that wasn’t entirely samples in their songs.
Oscar: Me neither but clearly somebody is a fan. And you can’t just dismiss a movement because you’re not a fan. Like, whether I like this album and whether it matters are two different things.
Zen: You’re right. I’m just saying that they think it reaches a new level of soul and deep emotion, and that I can, and will dismiss.
Oscar: Sure. Definitely dismiss that.
Zen: What were your top tracks?
Oscar: “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt.” I thought it used the things I don’t like about the style to its advantage, like the lack of soul. He used it to create a sort of cold, expansive sound. And all the tricks he does chopping up the drums later are pretty cool – like a direct showing of his skill, rather than just implying it. It added a kind of human element.
Zen: That’s on my list as well for the same reasons. His skill at chopping drum samples is bananas.
Oscar: Number two would be “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit) / Transmission 3” I thought it was relaxed and cool enough that I could just rock with it absent-mindedly while still enjoying it. Others I was so bored by that I kept checking how long was left and stuff like that.
Zen: Dude, half way through “Stem/Long Stem / Transmission 2” I checked how much was left and whispered “Shut the fuck up” at my iPod.
Oscar: Yeah, that one was rough. Third was “Mutual Slump.” I liked its simplicity, and the fact that it was only 4 minutes long.
Oscar: Anyway, those were my top 3. What were yours?
Zen: I like your choices. Same top 2, for same reasons, but instead of “Mutual Slump” my 3rd is “Midnight In A Perfect World.”
Oscar: How come?
Zen: The same reasons you like “Mutual Slump,” except I couldn’t really tolerate “Mutual Slump” because for some reason 96% of producers who use long portions of movie samples in their beats annoy me, so while it’s 1 minute longer than “Mutual Slump,” I dealt with it because it didn’t have that annoying girl talking about roller skating.
Oscar: Yeah, I can definitely agree with that. Like, I’m glad you thought that scene was profound but first of all without context it’s impossible for me to care, and second YOU DIDN’T WRITE THAT, BITCH.
Zen: My thoughts exactly. That could also apply to my thoughts on this album to a certain extent. What were your bottom 3?
Oscar: To an extent, yes. My bottom 3 were every song that wasn’t my top 3.
Zen: I can’t argue with that, because that was going to be my answer as well.
Oscar: I’m glad we can agree. Favorite musical moment?
Zen: When the drum hits on “Midnight In A Perfect World.” They are just perfect hip-hop drums.
Zen: And there’s something to be said for finding the simplicity that takes to create the perfect hip-hop drums. What was yours?
Oscar: The chopped-up drums in “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt.”
Zen: Solid. Favorite movie sampled line?
Oscar: I don’t remember a single one. I even forgot about the roller skating until you mentioned it.
Zen: I mean, that question was a joke. I would have been very sad if you answered that.
Oscar: I got you but I still wanted to reiterate.
Zen: So, now that we’ve complained a ton, what’s your final score?
Zen: This may be the lowest score you’ve given to an album.
Oscar: I think it is. I have no qualms about that.
Zen: How come?
Oscar: Because I recognize that it’s an achievement and an important album but personally I’d be perfectly ok never hearing it again, at least not in its entirety. What’s your score?
Zen: 5.7, like you. I think anything lower would be rude and kind of childish to brush off an important album to music’s history, but that does not mean that in the next week I won’t be possibly deleting the album from my iTunes. Just to be clear.
Oscar: Yeah, I’m torn between wanting to keep all the stuff we review and not wanting this to come up on shuffle.
Zen: That’s the cross you’ll have to bear.
Zen: Oh, lastly, I listened to a podcast a while back and one of the head guys from Pitchfork was asked to give his favorite album. He chose this.
Oscar: Really. OK.
Zen: I just wanted to draw a good clean line to show who has the good musical taste.
Come back next week for our reviews of Krallice’s Dimensional Bleedthrough and The Weeknd’s Kiss Land.