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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Belt

ALBUM REVIEW: DJ Shadow - Action Adventure

Sample legend succeeds in musical equivalent of diving into different parts of a video store

Curating a diverse collection of 14 songs across eighth studio album, Action Adventure, producer/DJ/composer/sampler extraordinaire, DJ Shadow, is in the groove.

Diving into a deep well of nostalgia, conjuring video stores, Halloween scenes, spacey prog and, most of all, the ‘80s, the album is strong thematically, yet allows DJ Shadow’s eclectic command of genres to take you on an odyssey – or adventure, as the title suggests.

With few vocals to speak of and a concoction of samples stitched together, this is DJ Shadow showcasing what makes him so unique.

Lead single, ‘Ozone Scraper’, is first out of the blocks – its searching synth and plane sounds giving it a spacey feel, with rock drums keeping the momentum of the music throughout. It’s an obvious choice to advertise the album being the most conventional track from the four stand-outs, which include ‘Witches Vs. Warlocks’, ‘The Prophecy’ and ‘Fleeting Youth (An Audible Life)’.

‘Witches Vs. Warlocks’ is blessed with perfectly arranged harmonies for a chorus of sorts, with oscillating bass lines and mysterious synth morphing into something spookier towards the back end of the track. ‘The Prophecy’ and ‘Fleeting Youth (An Audible Life)’ immediately jolt you into a mood – like being transported into a crucial part of a film – with the former’s synth putting you in mind of a psychological thriller and the latter something more arty with its considered, reflective piano.

‘All My’ splices and dices the vocal sample of ‘all my records and tapes’ with its broken record sound driven forward with an engaging beat. As perhaps is to be expected from the title, ‘Time and Space’ is a grand composition, spanning over eight minutes of piano, synth and laser gun zapping to give it a space epic feel. ‘Craig, Ingels, & Wrightson’ is an accomplished addition to Halloween playlists with its Daft Punk-style synth an appropriate call back to the title trio’s ‘50s horror comic book prowess.

DJ Shadow (Photo credit: Koury Angelo)

There is a faint Pendulum feel to ‘A Narrow Escape’ with its high-tempo synth-pop verging into club territory while ‘Friend or Foe’ delves into the space-prog-synth soundscape prevalent among a handful of tracks on the album.

Second single, ‘You Played Me’, didn’t particularly stand out as a single yet, here, as the one vocal-driven track, it breaks up the album perfectly and becomes stronger in its own right, the sampled acapella about not letting yourself be tricked in a relationship accompanied by ‘80s electronica. ‘Free For All’ is also a standalone track in its guitar-led indie which calls to mind a Western film.

What stops the album being fantastic – instead, merely(!) being great – is the closing trio of tracks. ‘Reflecting Pool’ is a tiresome near-eight minutes of basic, off-beat electronic drums with sporadic, jazz-like synth interventions. The drum track is hard to get along with and kills the momentum of the invention which came before. Whilst not as bad, ‘Forever Changed’ and ‘She’s Evolving’ don’t hit the heights of the first 11 tracks, with the former a measured palate cleanser from the previous song and the latter a Joe Hahn-inspired percussion track with M83-style synth and an average vocal sample.

Whilst the final three tracks to varying extents blot DJ Shadow’s copybook, there’s enough in the first 11 tracks to win over fans of his idiosyncratic sample-led music and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better instrumental-heavy album this year.

Rating: 8.1/10

Action Adventure is out on Friday (27 October) via Mass Appeal/Liquid Amber

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