“What does your soul look like?” DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.....
asks 20 minutes into its entirety. It’s rhetorical at best; a joke, right? Because this record can’t
have a soul--if it does, it’s stolen, from about a billion pieces of black wax that range from 60s psychedelia to (of course) obscure vocal B-movie samples to funky drum loops. Can an album that’s listed in the Guinness World Records
for being the first made up of entirely samples have a soul? Shadow is fu
us with that question, because he knows sampling is--or should be--a reductive art by nature. “What does your soul look like?” Apparently, it’s that cover, with some blurry-faced fat guy and another green-hooded guy...just sort of buying records, I guess. Hell, those two probably didn’t even know they were having their picture taken. Which, in the most abstract of ways, is sort of how this album works. It’s candid in the most abstract of ways; it takes snapshots of normal or even sh
itty (I fear ever having to witness how awkward the rest of the interview that introduces “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” is) slices of just about everything that pop and music culture have consisted of over the past forty years--and some things a little too odd or obscure or both to be considered part of any “culture”--and fashions them into a sort of patchwork soul and calls it Endtroducing.....
, five dots and all.
“Midnight in a Perfect World” is the obvious choice to exemplify this because it really is perfect (and, in its own way, sorta resembles midnight, although maybe that’s just some sort of weird placebo effect subconsciously forced onto me by the title) and the most accessible example of Shadow’s craft, but even things like opener “Best Foot Forward” (in which Shadow cleverly spends 50 seconds having his own sample army hype him up) or the bizarre untitled track show the sort of strange beauty that goes on behind the whole thing. This is the dirty underbelly of popular culture, recontextualized into something beautiful, something magnificent. A quote like “Maureen’s got five sisters. They’ve all got ass.” is given a place in the soul-quilt next to the tranquil sax solos and the horror-movie ambiance, and the album is all the better for it. The power of Endtroducing.....
lies in that it makes us appreciate, as well as the less “high-class” samples on here, those two record-scroungers on the cover. They may not be pretty to look at by themselves (sorry, guys), but it’s them and their records that coalesce into timelessly beautiful things like this. DJ Shadow is the opposite of sampling's stereotype as "reductive" art. He doesn’t just take “low art” and turn it into “high art”--he strips back the mask and reveals the “high art” potentiality in everything.