DJ Shadow experiments with his sound in new album

Chris Duncan

Joshua Davis is officially an old man in his business. The artist known as DJ Shadow released his plunderphonic masterpiece Endtroducing….. 20 years ago, displaying his immense attention to detail and setting forth a new style few could match. 

But in the five years since the release of Shadow’s last full-length LP The Less You Know, the Better, he’s lacked the charisma that made him so impactful and has struggled to keep up with younger producers. However, with his latest effort, The Mountain Will Fall, DJ Shadow dives into some new experimental facets, creating what is an admittedly flawed yet intriguing album.

While his debut inspired future musicians, The Mountain Will Fall draws from the past, namely instrumental hip-hop of the 2000’s. The album’s opening track declares this as boldly as almost any song on the album, kicking off with hazy sounds and slight funk similar to those of Oh No on Dr. No’s Experiment in 2007.

The album’s eyebrow-raising second track “Nobody Speak” features Run the Jewels, and although Killer Mike and El-P may not be at their most potent here, the prominent feature is a surprise in itself. And the experiment pays off — “Nobody Speaks” comes off as a fun-loving song with a decent amount of replay value, and grabs attention right on the offset when El-P raps, “Picture this, I’m a bag of dicks, Put me to your lips.”

Other appearances from producers Nils Frahm and Ernie Fresh bring Shadow out of his comfort zone to immediate success, finding the ground between old-school sample-based beats and modern electronica to create two colorful and hard-to-ignore tracks.

Unfortunately, some of these risks don’t pan out. “Three Ralphs” feels vintage, but the drum beats come far too quickly to be something Shadow hand-mixed on his Akai MPC 3000. While computer-made beats aren’t necessarily horrible, this is out of character for him, and other songs take it too far. The iTunes bonus track “Swerve,” for example, is easily the weakest on the album, built from the foundations of cartoon pings and lackluster sound effects.

Although not every moment translates perfectly, each song on The Mountain Will Fall builds into the album’s experience — for better or worse. Every track incorporates the playfulness of DJ Shadow, something he’s carried with him ever since the mid 90’s but often fails to bring onto an album. 

The difference between The Mountain Will Fall and all of DJ Shadow’s releases since 1996’s Endtroducing….. is that this record pulls the listener in, demanding attention to detail. And although Davis might not execute every single time, he comes through on his promise often enough to warrant excitement for releases
to come.