Talk about the weight of expectation. You make a record that’s hailed as a defining moment in the genesis of modern music, then wait six years to release a follow-up, the anticipation could crush you like an asteroid. DJ Shadow, aka Josh Davis, the still-young record freak behind 1996’s ‘Endtroducing…’, might not have been pancaked by those expectations, but ‘The Private Press’ is certainly a bit flat.
By its very nature, future-facing music suffers from built-in obselescence – it’s hard to shake the image of combat trousers and one-shouldered rucksacks at the mention of his name – and Shadow‘s once-remarkable instrumental hip-hop and sampled eclectica have been assimilated into the musical ambience. His work with U.N.K.L.E and his Quannum projects has maintained Shadow‘s reputation, yet it’s hardly enhanced it.
‘The Private Press’ isn’t a remarkable record – it lacks that startling and instinctive excitement capable of pushing music into the realm of the era-defining. Not that Davis seems to mind too much: he’s quoted as saying that the 14 tracks gathered here “aren’t brain surgery and don’t have a lot to say for themselves, but I just liked the way they went down.” It’s not really enough. Nor is the archetype of the Californian kid transforming his life through an obsessive love of hip-hop and a compulsive need to invent new sounds, an enduring modern myth, but also one of the reasons behind the deadening quality that pervades this record. Like the famous Mo’Wax obsession with ‘Star Wars’ collectibles, this is the fetishisation of sound for its own sake. It begins with the crackle of vinyl – of course – and scratched tracks like ‘Walkie Talkie’ and ‘Fixed Income’ don’t, as The Streets might say, push things forward. That’s not to say there aren’t great moments here: the deserted army-base atmospherics of ‘…Meets His Maker’; MC Lateef speeding up over a petrolhead bassline on the ‘Mashin’ On The Motorway’; the electroclash dash of ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’. And ‘Right Thing/GDMFSOB’ comes the closest to a coherent mission statement, combining a sample of a tape-addict ransacking his collection – “Then I find just the right thing” – with some ruthless electro aggro.
As the title suggests, ‘The Private Press’ is supposedly dedicated to the people on music’s outer limits, the marginalia that people pay to have released, the folk art, the work of outsiders. Unfortunately, it has none of that edge, none of that strangeness, capable of sounding cool but never quite heating the blood. We all – and especially DJ Shadow – know too much to be truly excited by that.