Melody Maker September 15 1996
Endtroducing was reviewed in the September 15 1996 issue of the Melody Maker.
DJ Shadow: Endtroducing... (Mo'Wax 13tks/64mins), by David Bennun.
Tricks of the Shade
SO MUCH music makes a virtue of going Out There, claiming to fly to other galaxies when it can barely hop to the end of its own doorstep. From Holst onwards, space has to be the single most abused musical metaphor. But out here on the perimeter, there are a few stars. New Kingdom, without whose records you are cut off from a crucial part of your own imagination. The best of the drum'n'bassists and the darkside junglists. Coltrane and Hendrix, brightest of the dead suns, their light still travelling long after the source has vaporised.
It would be so easy to mistake DJ Shadow for another cosmic voyager. He makes slow, instrumental hip hop, sure-footed, authoritative, blessed with the calm-before-thunder grace and space of the emptiest dub. He's voiceless and gravity-defying and suitably nebulous — to our minds, the music of the spheres should never sully itself with anything so earthbound as meaning. But Shadow isn't Out There at all. He's In Here. Introspection is considered the preserve of the Song and its lyrical guardians. Tricky has already proved this needn't be so. (Although he should have a classification to himself: Not There, after he filled his debut album with so many shadows that he almost managed to will himself invisible.) Shadow's heavy heartbeats and his stately, neo-classical chords reach so far into innerspace that you find tears welling up for no discernable reason, as if a trigger has been flicked in your brain.
Endtroducing... — a pitiful piece of wordplay, with its grandly cyclical connotations, but let it pass — is the most astonishing LP since Maxinquaye itself, from the man who alone justifies the kudos hurled at the Mo'Wax imprint. Had it come out of nowhere, I doubt I would have recovered from the shock yet. 1994's perfectly titled What Does Your Soul Look Like, an album in all but barcode, had already turned hip hop inside out, leaving Endtroducing... little to do but amaze. This it does; then it flips hip hop inside out all over again like a reversible glove, and again, and again, and each time it's sudden and new. I am, I confess, totally confounded by it. I hear a lot of good records, but very few impossible ones.
Coming from a label cursed with delusions of profundity, at a time when "trip hop" signifies functional speaker-fodder for chain-spliffing potheads, Endtroducing... is even more precious in its loving wholeness, its sublime exactness and unchartable depth. I have stared down ancient wells in the ruined city of Gedi that were more fathomable. If only the human interior were as beautiful as this, with hissing reveries, bottomless pools of memory and rhythms thumping with the slow pulse of doubt. Never mind what your soul looks like; it probably looks squat and homely. This is what it feels like.
It's hard to get a fix on what separates Endtroducing... from the trip hop herd, but it's as different as a caress is from a handshake. You need this record. You are incomplete without it. It might contain clues to your own nature and those of the people you love.
Failing that, it's a heartbreakingly good album.