DJ Spooky exploded onto the hot lists of edgy music and digital culture magazines (and soon after, their mastheads -- as a contributing writer) with his 1996 album Songs of a Dead Dreamer on the genre-bending Asphodel label. He instantly became the poster boy for the imagined postmodern lifestyle promoted in magazines like Wired and Raygun. Spooky had turntables, an upright bass, dreadlocks, a degree in French philosophy, and a penchant for dropping the names of musique concrète composers into the same sentence as Bad Brains and Grandmaster Flash. His music, however, was quite a bit less accessible to armchair intellectuals than was his glossy page persona. The sound he helped put on the map -- illbient -- favored juxtapositions of conflicting rhythms and long excursions into beatless washes that were more unsettling than relaxing.
1998's Riddim Warfare seemed intended by Spooky to drum up more interest in himself as a producer than as a pop culture theorist. He hooked up with everyone from Kool Keith to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, kept the droning to a minimum, and focused on blending the recognizable grooves of drum 'n' bass and hip hop with his bass playing and modest DJ skills. The result was all over the place and yet nowhere; the album's vision was subsumed by the concessions he made to diverse audiences -- indie rockers, hip-hoppers, electronic and world music fans.
Subliminal Minded feels like a subtle attempt to right those wrongs. There are four remixes of tracks from Riddim Warfare: "Rekonstruction" (featuring Prince Poetry and Pharaoh Monch, formerly known as Organized Konfusion), "Dialectical Transformation III" (with Thurston Moore), and two versions of "Peace in Zaire" (by DJ Wally and the Dub Pistols) -- each more concise and intelligently arranged than the original. "DJ Spooky vs. the Dub Pistols Peace in Zaire Mix" is the standout: The beefy drums of big beat duo the Dub Pistols are built around a ska horn section, an element sorely underused in electronic music. Also impressive is "Rapper's Relight," a multilayered collage put together with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, which inserts the bass line of "Rapper's Delight" into the swirling abstract soundscape. Excepting the five short interlude pieces on Subliminal Minded, you're left with seven compelling songs that realize Spooky's vision of an illbient that is easy to approach.