If sharing is caring, DJ Shadow is a poster boy for restless devotion. In the six years since his seminal Endtroducing album, Marin County resident Josh Davis has collaborated with members of Radiohead, the Verve, and the Beastie Boys on U.N.K.L.E.'s gritty trip-hop LP, Psyence Fiction; produced Bay Area hip-hop act Blackalicious' NIA album; scored Dark Days, the award-winning documentary about freeway dwellers; and worked with Jurassic 5 DJ Cut Chemist to compose the rare funk-and-soul mix albums Brain Freeze and Product Placement. In the process, he has earned a reputation as an imaginative, versatile artist, bigger than any single project.
Shadow's extracurricular work hasn't just been dilettantish wandering, however. As he claimed in a recent radio interview, he deliberately waited to work on his next solo album until he felt he'd been transformed by fresh ideas. Now, with his new full-length The Private Press, Shadow is even more at home: blending disparate sounds and creating a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. (The record takes its name from the source of most of its samples: small-run releases by unknown bands playing everything from raw funk to cerebral art-rock.)
Consistently chill yet challenging, The Private Press seems to tell the tale of a head-tripper during his last delusions on Earth from inside his own mind. Each song is an episode, with every transition suggesting a larger story. The album opens with the rich groove of "Fixed Income," a throbbing number that leads into the hard break-beats of "Walkie Talkie," over which b-boys and girls playfully boast. The next tracks leave traditional DJ music far behind, offering mid-'70s rock-opera crooning, psychedelic crescendos, tinkling piano keys, an English voice finding "just the right thing" in dorky dance beats and a rhythm grown (amazingly) from a single two-bar sample. Bringing the story to a close, Oakland rapper Lateef narrates the manic motorcycle hero's ride and crash and a Journey-esque guest balladeer explores the question of an afterlife.
Amid all this plot, The Private Press trades Endtroducing's lapel-grabbing hooks for a hand-on-the-shoulder invitation to listen. While some longtime fans may resent the lack of hard hits, Press' intimate attitude more than its rare sounds and virtuoso techniques signals important changes for the artist. For people who prefer to consume music in homes rather than in clubs, DJ Shadow's newly acquired light touch is dynamite.