You’ll never hear anyone quite like Josh Davis, popularly known as DJ Shadow. Acclaimed for his 1996 debut album ‘Endtroducing…’, he has been lauded for providing masterclasses in sampling, creating papier-mâchés of pure hip hop texture, with the aforementioned debut being his magnum opus, the work that epitomises his innovation.
It’s twenty years later – many hip hop producers have taken from his work, added to it, experimented even more-so, but what’s more is that DJ Shadow is back with ‘The Mountain Will Fall’, his first album in five years.
The album starts with a slight modern, contemporary twist grappling with nostalgic hints at record scratches and cassette tape sound effects. This title track also has an electronic ambient vibe, as does ‘Bergschrund’ which features classical/ambient musician Nils Frahm. DJ Shadow is no stranger to including these out synth pad sections into his work, but his interest seems to have blossomed into another layer of talent; seriously, ‘Bergschrund’ is great!
‘The Mountain Will Fall’ does tend to drop in and out of that old school, quintessential Shadow identity – but the reminiscent weird samples and nostalgic keyboards on tracks like ‘The Sideshow’ and ‘Three Ralphs’ (and almost on ‘Mambo’) definitely make the album feel at home in the producer’s discography.
Hip hop duo Run the Jewels appear on the track ‘Nobody Speak’, the kind of feature that isn’t necessarily a tradition for DJ Shadow. It isn’t a bad move anyway, it feels quite nice, almost with what would often be an ill-advised sense of aloofness for a DJ Shadow record – but the near-raw performances from Killer Mike and El-P, with no contrived wordplay, are enjoyable – especially as two of the most cherished rappers working today have now worked on a DJ Shadow album. That’s pretty damn cool in itself.
There are a number of uninspired moments on the record, not necessarily padding, and not necessarily background noise but fairly close. Luckily, there’s still enough experimentation on tracks like ‘Ashes to Oceans’ and ‘California’ to not let them become outright tedious; you can get lost in the lovely pianos of the former, and the craziness of the latter. Both songs – and a few others – still feel as though they’re missing something, mind you. Not to make the comparison again, but some pieces really lack that ‘Endtroducing…’ charm. Some songs also feel out of place, and so the album doesn’t flow quite as nicely as one would hope, there’s a communication breakdown of sorts.
‘The Mountain Will Fall’ marks an optimistic return for DJ Shadow, but said optimism is often overshadowed by a lack of execution – the kind of execution we’re come to expect.
‘The Mountain Will Fall’ is out now via Reconstruction Productions
This DJ Shadow article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor