“Action Adventure” is an appropriate title for DJ Shadow’s most recent full-length, his seventh album since his seminal, groundbreaking debut, 1996’s “Endtroducing.” The title successfully captures the sprawling travelogue of an action adventure depicted sonically on the album. Compared to his last outing, 2019’s “Our Pathetic Age,” which was replete with guest vocalists, Josh Davis’ newest release as DJ Shadow is free of singing with the exception of “You Played Me,” featuring a vocal sample of Jan Jerome’s R&B B-side “Baby, Got Me Goin” from 1990 (a danceable highlight). DJ Shadow raided what he hadn’t already heard from his 60,000-piece vinyl-record collection and 200 tapes recorded off a 1980s radio mix he purchased via eBay for the source material for “Action Adventure.” That being said, it’s remarkable what a cohesive sound he weaves across these fourteen tracks in just under an hour. All of the tracks are the perfect length, also impressive, given they range from two-and-a-half to over eight minutes. On his Bandcamp page, Davis says that his latest is closer to “Endtroducing” and his second album, 2002’s “The Private Press,” in terms of being primarily instrumental, but he makes it clear that this record is not a “throwback,” that the songs represent his “continued evolution” as a producer and songwriter.
He says, “Objectively, I hear maturity and growth. The arrangements are sophisticated but efficient, the programming more deliberate.” I’m not sure how the artist himself can be objective, but I don’t disagree. He also says that as the title implies, “there’s a wide variety of moods and a premium on melody and texture, with the intention of maximum emotional impact.” And that certainly hits the nail on the head.
To select just a few of these tracks (an exercise almost as difficult as picking your favorite child, or so I hear), the kickoff cut (and first single) “Ozone Scraper” sets the tone. It starts with a rousing beat before introducing a spacey synth piece that could have been pulled from an outtake by A Flock of Seagulls. The follow-up, “All My,” uses a sample of Loudon Wainwright III saying, “all my records and tapes,” a particularly meta moment, when one considers “Action Adventure”’s foundation, and he rocks that sample and a crazy beat into oblivion. “Time and Space,” as one might suspect from the title, is a crazy trip through both, somehow capturing both dimensions in a lengthy workout. Unquestionably the spookiest, eeriest, and darkest cut, “Witches vs. Warlocks,” contains a sample of “(Wir Sind Die) Schmetterband,” performed by Schmetterlinge (The Butterflies), an Austrian folk-political rock band of the 1970s and early 1980s. The track could orchestrate a crazier battle/dance of hobbits and orcs then even Tolkien himself could dream of. “A Narrow Escape” contains a sample of “The Runner,” written and performed by Sam Spence, and the glitchy synth-pop workouts continue here and throughout. Although the cuts on “Action Adventure” do stand alone, only after listening to it end-to-end did I become a real fan, sort of like how reading a few chapters here and there of a book doesn’t really make sense, but exploring it from start to finish provides the most satisfaction.
“Action Adventure” and other cuts from DJ Shadow’s innovative career at Metro, 3730 North Clark, on Wednesday, January 31. Doors at 7pm; Holly opens at 8pm. The show is 18+ and tickets are here.
Craig Bechtel is a freelance writer and has also been a Senior Staff Writer for Pop’stache. He is also a DJ, volunteer and Assistant Music Director for CHIRP Radio, 107.1 FM, and contributes occasionally to the CHIRP blog. As DJ Craig Reptile, you can hear him play music on the FM dial or at www.chirpradio.org most Sunday nights from 6pm to 9pm. He previously worked in radio at KVOE AM and Fox 105 in Emporia, Kansas, and served as a DJ, music director and general manager for WVKC at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he also won the Davenport Prize for Poetry and earned a B.A. in English writing. Craig has been working in various capacities within the hotel and meetings industry for over twenty years, and presently works at a company that uses proprietary systems to develop proven data strategies that increase revenue, room nights and meeting attendance. In his spare time, he also fancies himself an armchair herpetologist, and thus in addition to a wife, son and cat, he has a day gecko and a veiled chameleon in his collection.