DJ Shadow made history 20 years ago with Endtroducing… a one of a kind instrumental hip-hop album composed entirely of samples. And while his later works never quite hit the same heights as that debut, the west coast producer has continued to deliver some of the most unique instrumental albums in the genre. Shadow doesn’t just make beats, he constructs impressive soundscapes that weave in and out of each other. He ties them up into a narrative arc without really needing words, and The Mountain Will Fall follows the same tack. The tracklist features more guest spots than one might expect, but none of them steal the spotlight away from where it should be: the beats, the music, the tone. It’s not an attempt to recreate Endtroducing… but Shadow’s motivations seem to come from the same place and its success stems from that more than anything else.
Experimentation and novelty made DJ Shadow a legend and the same things take The Mountain Will Fall out of the realm of beat-tapes and into its own space. The album begins with a spoken “Hi!” and swelling, ambient synth pads before the beat drops in with a sampled holler and thunderous, wonky drum sounds. The serenity and calmness of the synths and the beat sheer volume and force smash against each other in confusion and harmony, never sure if it’s a competition and if it is, who is winning. The whole project tilts that way. Elements find themselves in strange contrast with other elements, drops land in unexpected places like they showed up early or late. Most of the time, confusion serves to benefit the overall concept, but not always.
The second track, “Nobody Speak,” which features Run The Jewels, is on of the more out of place pieces. Not to say it’s bad, it just feels more like an El-P beat than a DJ Shadow beat and it’s the only fully and clearly lyrical song on the project. The tone and the lyrics don’t line up with the rest of the album, and the following track, “Three Ralphs” is hardly a full composition and serves mostly as a bridge between “Nobody Speak” and the nine following songs. By track five, “The Sideshow” however, Shadow finds a solid pocket and The Mountain Will Fall, doesn’t lose much steam from there on out. The track features abundant record scratches, deep brass bass, and a killer break-beat that nods to the sound of the mid 90’s when Shadow was coming up.
The back half of The Mountain Will Fall continues the atmospheric trend with the dark and intense “Depth Charge” and the waves and soft electronic accents of “Ashes to Oceans.” Each track contains elements that seem outside of DJ Shadow’s normal comfort zone but to his credit, he works them into his more comfortable style effortlessly. “California” picks up about three minutes in and shows a noisy, aggressive side to the artist that sounds Death Grips inspired. Tracks like “Mambo” and “Ghost Town” involve that newly popular style of hesitated drum hits and high, fast tempo, clicks. It’s a new sound for Shadow, but he makes these things sound right at home amid his piano loops and deep house bass.
Enough time and perseverance might surely make a mountain fall to the ground, just like time and perseverance can keep a legendary producer from ever sounding stale. The Mountain Will Fall is a picture of an artist who keeps moving motivated by curiosity and experimentation. Consistent evolution is the name of the game for DJ Shadow. He’s not the same DJ he was in ’96 but he’s still one of the most creative and original music-makers in the business.