On the 24th of June 2016 DJ Shadow released his fifth album ‘The Mountain Will Fall’ on Mass Appeal Records. The Californian hasn’t released an album since 2011, but this time Josh Davis has taken a very different approach, does it work?
An artist that is known for sampling using classic Hip-Hop tools such as turntables and an MPC, for this he uses software like Ableton to create a more futuristic project. His most popular and possibly best work ‘Endtroducing’ is a must-have for producers and listeners alike, 20 years later and not only has it stood the test of time, it has also matured well. This style of creating new music from old vinyl has been somewhat lost over the years, current producers are less likely to use any hardware at all. However popular DJ Shadow’s work has been over the past few decades, nothing has received the same praise as ‘Endtroducing.’ I hope this change in creative process could be the start of something just as impressive.
One of the hints of things to come was ‘Ghost Town’, released in 2014 and featuring on this album. It’s a Trap beat that would be at home on ‘Lucky Me’ alongside Rustie or Hudson Mohawke. The album opens with the title track and a pristine chord progression of synths and choirs and before the fuzzy beat drops, there is a dusty vocal to introduce it. Even though there is no hardware involved there is an almost analogue feel to his sound palette, using the software to create familiar tricks like tape stops. This one sits somewhere between light and dark, something that Davis has always managed to execute perfectly.
Run The Jewels feature on ‘Nobody Speak’, a rare collaboration with rappers Killer Mike and El P. The result is somewhat lukewarm and lacks any real stand out rhymes; the beat itself is still up-to-scratch leaning more towards a traditional Hip-Hop approach. ‘Bergschrund’ on the other hand teams up with Nils Frahm to create the experimental sonics he is known for. You can certainly hear influences from each artist and the result is impressive, something that studio nerds and student ravers alike could relate to.
Many of the other offerings such as ‘Three Ralphs’ and ‘Mambo’ feel a little thrown together, possibly signs that new experimentation may not suit him. There’s something missing from this album so far, especially if you are listening as a long time fan of the classic ‘Endtroducing’ style. You can’t help but admire his attempts over the years to stay current and move with the times, however some of the Trap/ IDM/ Dubstep influences don’t appear to blend together. ‘The Sideshow’ which features Ernie Fresh instantly reminds me of his earlier works with more turntablism and live recorded drum samples and breaks. ‘Ashes To Oceans’ is also likely to interest life-long fans, as its stuttering drums and piano chords float in and out with the sounds of the sea.
However much ‘Pitter Patter’ and ‘Ghost Town’ manage to excite, they still sound awkward. This awkwardness was again something that worked much better on ‘Endtroducing’, the EDM sound effects and over the top build-ups also feel like a copout. You have to give each track a chance though, as we already know DJ Shadow likes to switch things up, proven with the haunting drop on the album highlight ‘Ghost Town’. The album almost finishes on a high with the guitar filled ‘Suicide Pact’, although the bonus track ‘Swerve’ is a little out of place, it’s big bass line and cheeky samples sound more like they could have been created by the likes of Baauer or Flosstradamus.
Even though this album has some nasty surprises, Davis will always be an extremely talented producer whether on hardware or not. His attempts to release a 2016 friendly album may have not completely worked in his favour, as when compared to his older work this could almost pass as a new alias. The experimental and psychedelic elements often overpower the musicality, sample choice and drum edits that I am sure his fans will expect to hear more of.