DJ Shadow has made some of the most detached, moody music the electronic world has ever seen. He is the man behind Endtroducing, an album so breathtakingly original (ironic, considering the entire album is samples), so surreal, it's widely considered the finest hour of trip-hop. It took him six years for a proper follow-up album, The Private Press, but with an album like Endtroducing to wait with in the meantime, it's not so bad. So does this mean in-between 1996 and 2002, there was no Shadow to warm our hearts? In 1998 he released the ignored Preemptive Strike. Not so much ignored, as itís not considered as an equivalent to his two albums, which is a damn shame, because it easily equals them.
Preemptive Strike is a culmination, a collection of his best songs from his early career, 1991-1996. It wasn't a stopgap measure, or to insure his restless fans had something new to listen to while he was off with UNKLE or DJ Q-Bert. The material in Preemptive Strike is just a normal album to me. It might not flow like one, considering these tracks are arranged chronologically. But this might be all for the best, because the first track on the album is the single, "In/Flux".
In/Flux has been sited as one of the first moments in trip-hop, if not, widely regarded as the sole creator of a genre. It's a comprehensive blend of different cultures and backgrounds, over a steady, funky bassline. In the way that only DJ Shadow can, it combines jazz, turntablism (der), hip-hop, and electronica. It turns and bends for twelve joyous minutes, grooving and sinking into the walls. It flows into the next song, Hindsight. I often call this the most underrated DJ Shadow song ever. It's simply a seven minute downbeat session. It's not very exciting, and it won't draw you in like In/Flux, but it's a wonderful track nonetheless. I can't say much more about it, but it's very enjoyable.
If you're a fan of Endtroducing, and you always wondered what happened with "What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pts. 2 & 3", these are on the album as well. Although the track sequence isn't from 1-4 (the order here is 2, 3, 4, 1), it's the complete half-hour carnation. While parts 1 & 4 were standout tracks on Endtroducing, the real attention is focused on parts 2 & 3. DJ Shadow did very little to spruce up the already majestic tracks, and it's a good thing he didn't try and fix the unbroken. I won't review them, because they're practically untouched from Endtroducing.
"What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pt. 2" is the longest song of DJ Shadows career, up to this point, and is the most touching and lonely song on the album. Images of a man trudging though dreary, rain soaked streets in a dark city are burned into your mind, even past the brass intro, the female droning, and the lone saxophone halfway into the song. Somehow, it's manages to be even more bleak than ďBlood on the Motorway", off of The Private Press. To sum up this song quite briefly, as I cannot describe how meticulously beautiful it is, I will quote one the beginning samples: "Does anyone remember who I am?"
"What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pt. 3 is an uplifting, friendly return to a much happier song. It begins slowly, with a chirpy flute fading in and out, accompanied by some wind chimes. The only drum line is a simple, pounding force that's beat into your head, and drives the rest of the song along. Some spare scratching and piano make up the rest of this song. It's really a shame DJ Shadow didn't incorporate the voice sample from the live version of this song from In Tune and On Time.
After Parts 1 & 4, we come across another single, "High Noon". It's the shortest song on the album, but that's because it follows an unconventional structure (for DJ Shadow, at least). It's obviously a single, when you listen to it, and a single, driving guitar riff determines that. It's a nice, solid little song. The last song on the album is an extended remix of "Organ Donor", from Endtroducing. It's twice as long, features drums and FX, and the organ track is varied throughout the song. Thank god he left in that organ solo. Itís more accessible than the original, but least memorable too. It can't stand up against beasts like "In/Flux", and the juggernaut of the album, Parts 1-4, but that was never really its purpose. It was only to extend upon the original with possibilities that could have been done, but weren't. It stands as a good remix and album closer.