Published Jun 22, 2016It's tempting to say that DJ Shadow is back to release a new album, but he's never actually gone away; rather, he faded into the background. Since his legendary Endtroducing..... and The Private Press, which didn't go over quite as well, but song for song may actually be a better listen, Shadow's lost a lot of his lustre. 2006's The Outsider had the unfortunate combination of alienating all of his fans and failing to gather any new ones, while The Less You Know, the Better made about as much of an impact as an acorn landing on wet grass.
Which brings us right up to his latest record, The Mountain Will Fall, where everyone's wondering, hoping, praying that it's at least something of a return to form. The good news is that it kind of is. DJ Shadow's solid fifth LP shows that he still has the chops to cut a good record when he's not doing a complete gear change (The Outsider) and then turning down the wrong road at full speed (The Less You Know, the Better).
From the sombre opening notes of the title track, you get the impression that there could really be something here, and he backs it up finely with the now-ubiquitous "Nobody Speak," featuring Run the Jewels. As far as collaborations go, the album doesn't get much better than that, though. Nils Frahm's contribution to "Bergschrund" (which is a form of glacial crevasse) is a delicious sounding flurry of blips, but "Ashes to Oceans," featuring Matthew Halsall, doesn't really go anywhere, and "Pitter Patter" featuring G Jones & Bleep Bloop is palatable, but still fairly forgettable too.
Luckily, Shadow is still more than capable when left to his own devices. "Three Ralphs," which harkens back to "Monosylabik" with some engine rev samples, is a downtempo powerhouse, and then there's "Ghost Town," whose creaking percussion, chewed-up vocals and poignant piano loops make it one of the best Shadow tracks in over a decade.
Is he back to his old tricks? Did he ever really fall that far from grace? What genre is he tackling now? Those and a million other questions may run through your mind before listening to The Mountain Will Fall, but the only way to enjoy this record is to forget everything you know about DJ Shadow. Forget the world records and career cul de sacs, forget the good times and the bad — forget all of the baggage that now comes with a DJ Shadow record.
Pretend this is someone's debut, and you'll hear an excellent new album by an ambitious talent. (Mass Appeal)