REVIEW: DJ Shadow’s “Def Surrounds Us” / “I’ve Been Trying” (limited edition 12″ single)

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Last week Friday, a Twitter friend tells me that nine minutes before he sent his message, DJ Shadow made an announcement that he pressed up a limited edition of a 12″ single that would be a mere preview of what’s to come from his forthcoming album. To make it even more interesting, the 12″ single would be made available for free, with only one record for each customer. With nine minutes passed, there was no way I could score a copy, and when I visited Shadow’s website with the record offer, it stated all records were sold out. However, there was a statement which stated that some carts might be emptied, so there might be a chance to obtain a record. I primarily use the Firefox browser but it didn’t work, no matter how many times I refreshed. I switched browsers (Opera), and in a minute, a cart popped up and I clicked. Boom, copy obtained. An hour later, I was sent a receipt indicating the record would be shipped that day, which meant since Shadow HQ and I are on the same coast, I would get that record on Monday.

It’s (only) Monday…

My copy of the 12″ single arrived today, and the cover is a trip. It’s an illustrated cover, and I believe each of the 100 covers sent out were individually drawn. No credit to the artist, but my edition looks like a cross between the small white box on the bottom of the back cover of Led Zeppelin II
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and a freaky, hairy testicle, along with a little mouse on the upper left that looks like it’s waving. The record itself is thick (180g perhaps) and on blue vinyl, spinning at 45rpm for optimum sound quality. Matrix reveals the record was mastered at Abbey Road. Nice.

  • The music is what you want to know about, right? This is incredible. For the two songs, the days of Endtroducing aree long gone, as if he’s found a comfort zone to play with between stages of Psyence Fiction, The Private Press, and The Outsider. If you’ve listened to anything he has done in between albums, the mixing, sampling/chopping style, and soundscape textures should come as no surprise, as he has always played around with moving to new places.
  • “Def Surround Us” is an uptempo track that has a slight Goldie/Roni Size feel, imagine Shadow if he was doing Timeless and “Share The Fall” in the mid-90’s instead of “Hardcore (Instrumental) Hip-Hop”. The song goes through a lot of moods, from loud to delicate, and just as I felt it was about to fade into the distance, it comes back. When the choir comes in at around the 4:58 mark , it’s chicken skin inducing. As the song fades out, it seems to show hints of “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt” and “Giving Up The Ghost”, as if a bit of musical continuity is at play.
  • “I’ve Been Trying” features male vocals and is on the mellow melancholy side a la “Six Days”. To my ears, Shadow has always been subtle in how he uses his samples, not only to make great sounding songs, but to convey messages that are only meant to be known between him and his intended target. “I’ve Been Trying” is a love song, or at least a song with a romantic tone, and you can listen to it as if you’ve been driving on an endless highway and you’ve tuned into a frequency unknown. The music comforts you, and you share the warmth of that dedication, along with the fading warmth of the sunset. It’s that kind of song, like a Zabriskie Point-type of excursion but without a building exploding at half speed.
  • Shadow has always went out of his way to try something new, even when fans have wanted him to hang on to the sounds they were i(e)ntroduced with. This is music from a producer who has progressed from a mere lover of hip-hop, obscure beats and samples to someone who has developed into someone firmly in control of the way he manipulates sound, in whatever context he feels. Even when it may sound like he’s in total control, there’s that desire to scratch that itch and find new things to remedy the situation. It was journalist Paul Morley who called his group, Art Of Noise, “a spanner in the works”, and that has been Shadow’s unspoken motto for twenty years.

    Don’t call it a comeback, DJ Shadow has been here for years, but musically, someone will answer in sample form and say “it’s the awesome return of Uncle”. Josh, that is.

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