There's something effortless about Josh Davis' sampling technique. It defies the usual genre classifications, without becoming a gimmick. While his DJ Shadow moniker has been associated with some of the finest examples of turntable trickery of the last 20 years, he's also had to deal with a backlash from fans as his output evolved. Summing that up in a two-disc compilation that provides an overview of four studio albums, numerous singles, and other collaborations is therefore not an easy task. However, Reconstructed: The Best Of DJ Shadow feels like a very accurate and compelling retelling of how Shadow got from College Radio to acclaimed producer and beyond.
It's really only the deluxe edition of Reconstructed that illustrates that journey properly. While 1996's Endtroducing was Davis' entrance into the mainstream, the 1994 single 'Lost And Found (S.F.L.), which can be found on the second disc here, was the quintessential DJ Shadow calling card. Sampling a U2 drumbeat and coupling it with a laid-back lounge groove, funk guitar and jazz trumpet, it creates a hypnotic soundscape which provides the template for the early DJ Shadow sound. You can hear the grooves and hiss of the vinyl bubbling away in the background between vocal samples and scratches. There's something unique and unforced about this concoction of disparate elements on the track, and that's the one unifying theme to all of Davis' work.
Davis may be well known for his love of beats as demonstrated by the inclusion of the extended versions of 'Midnight In A Perfect World' and 'Organ Donor', but he's also got a good ear for interesting guitar riffs. Thankfully, Reconstructed doesn't ignore those tracks with the inclusion of 'High Noon' and 'You Made It'. Neither does this compilation try to airbrush out Davis' indie Mo' Wax experiments with Unkle. Both Richard Ashcroft and Thom Yorke get a look in here, with the addition of 'Lonely Soul' and 'Rabbit In Your Headlights' respectively. While Davis was a key player in the development of what became known as Instrumental hip-hop, his movement away from this is also showcased here. While his third album The Outsider divided fans, in retrospect it included material such as the '70s soul infused 'This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)', which sits comfortably alongside the more well-known tracks featured on Reconstructed.
If the second disc digs a little deeper into Davis' record box, he's not afraid to unleash new material amongst the crown jewels of his back catalogue either. The first disc includes the newly recorded songs 'Listen' and 'Won't You Be'. Both sound like classic soul funk hits, however neither track sacrifices Davis' beats and samples, elevating them beyond imitation of a more familiar and nostalgic genre. Terry Reid's vocal performance on the former song is actually a standout moment on a compilation, which is already filled to bursting with memorable hooks and melodies.
It's difficult to think of many other 'best ofs' that feel as cohesive as Reconstructed. While musical styles and ideas flow freely around Davis' decks, none of them feel like missteps in a career that's lasted nearly two decades. Equally, none of the tracks feel like he's bent to external pressure and expectation, he's simply fused his love of hip-hop with a myriad of genres to create his own unique sub-genre. In typical DJ Shadow fashion one of the samples here encapsulates Davis' mind-set and ultimately what's great about Reconstructed. "I'd like to just continue to be able to express myself, as best as I can. I've got a lot of work to do still; I'm a student of the drums. I'm a teacher of the drums too."
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