Shadow's extracurricular work hasn't just been dilettantish wandering, however. As he claimed in a recent radio interview on KALX-FM (90.7), 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, 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 breakbeats 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.
Amidst 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.