Album Review: DJ Shadow, ‘The Mountain Will Fall’

Written By: Angelo Gingerelli

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Since pioneering Trip-Hop in the early 90’s and releasing arguably the genre’s best album with 1996’s Entroducing… California’s DJ Shadow has been a mainstay in the subgenre of electronic music known more for moody ambient soundscapes than fist pumping club anthems. Like most Trip-Hop, DJ Shadow’s music occupies a strange space, it’s synthesis of disparate elements (video game sounds, futuristic interludes, spoken word soliquies, etc.) requires an inarguable amount of skill and musicianship, but the results don’t necessarily appeal to a wide audience. Most Trip-Hop is too spacey and ethereal to appeal to Top 40 Radio fans and while it seems like a good fit for fans of other electronic music, most of the tempos are too slow for dancing, ensuring that the genre wouldn’t cash in on EDM’s recent explosion, and while most rap fans can appreciate the production values, listening to extended instrumentals without lyrics or hooks is usually not appealing.

Since the Mid-90’s Trip-Hop has been a critical darling as the best of the genre proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that electronic music takes an incredible amount of skill to produce. Also, artists like DJ Shadow have become favorites with college students and hipsters because the music provides a perfect backdrop for studying, working on a laptop at a coffee shop or pontificating about the future, very popular activities in these demographics. And while these will be there core audience for The Mountain Will Fall there are a few cuts on this album that might find an audience beyond Trip-Hop’s usual confines.

The record starts off strong with the title track establishing the moody and intricate soundscapes that fill the rest of the album. The intro is immediately followed by the first single “Nobody Speak” which features Hip-Hop duo Run the Jewels showing why they have been so critically and commercially successfully the last few years (a RTJ EP produced by DJ Shadow is definitely an idea both fan bases would support…hint hint). There are a few tracks that flirt with being danceable and can definitely be played in a club with minimal re-working, the best of these are Bergschrund, The Sideshow (featuring new MC Ernie Fresh) and Pitter Patter (with G. Jones & Bleep Bloop). “Mambo” actually samples a vocal sample from an instructional record of how to do the dance (no, it’s not Lou Bega) that actually works really well. These are the most accessible songs and will probably be the ones most played by casual fans.

The production on the project is incredibly intricate with all songs containing multi-layered instrumentals that sound somehow futuristic and familiar at the same time. This is best displayed on “California” which starts off sounding like it should be played at the cantina in Star Wars and ends with touches of G-Funk that would sound at home on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic from ’93. Most of the songs feature similar movements and transitions where the music seamlessly undergoes a metamorphosis over the course of a few minutes. Songs like “Ashes to Oceans” and “Depth Charge” make radical transformations that keep listeners interested and ensure the album avoids the “Back Ground Music” label associated with the genre.

The Mountain Will Fall is yet another quality release from DJ Shadow and a high point for the Trip-Hop genre in general. With the current popularity of electronic music, the album has a chance at a larger audience than many of his earlier works, and while the majority of the record might be slightly intimidating to the uninitiated, the project will definitely be appreciated by longtime fans and those willing to broaden their musical horizons.

Best Songs: “Nobody Speak” (Featuring Run The Jewels), “The Sideshow” (Featuring Ernie Fresh) and “California”

Perfect For: Reading, Writing, or hanging out on your laptop in a coffee shop.

Rating 8 out of 10

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