Release Date: Jun 24, 2016
Record label: Mass Appeal
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Turntablism, Left-Field Hip-Hop
Coinciding with the comeback of fellow plunderphonic luminaries the Avalanches, Josh Davis returns with his first album in five years. Like the former, he no longer works exclusively in samples – though nor has he abandoned them entirely: an ambient 1970s composition forms the basis of the title track. But whether or not the majority of the music is original often seems besides the point – the irreverent, and sometimes slightly irritating, cut-and-paste aesthetic remains in place, proving that you can repurpose sound even if you’ve created it.
"The same way I was trying to push the boundaries then, I'm trying to push my own boundaries now." No joke; two decades on from the immortal Endtroducing, Josh 'DJ Shadow' Davis remains a shape-shifting enigma, determined to throw us off the scent. Accordingly, The Mountain Will Fall’s lead single – a Run the Jewels featuring boom–bap explosion called Nobody Speak – is rendered sheer misdirection in the context of its textured and disorienting parent album. Having delivered what he recently dubbed his “goodbye letter” to sampling with 2011’s The Less You Know, the Better, here Shadow's new Ableton game chimes more with HudMo's neon fantasies and Death Grips' darkest speaker-bursting bass explorations.
It comes so close. Josh Davis's best album in at least a decade starts off with the excellent title track, a lush sounding landscape that's as pretty as anything he's ever done, and he follows that up with the killer "Nobody Speak" featuring Run the Jewels. Then, the third track, "Three Ralphs," is like hitting a brick wall, but without the excitement.
Endtroducing..… will be referenced in about 90 percent of anything written about DJ Shadow until the day he dies — that’s what happens when you singlehandedly alter the course of hip-hop history. Josh Davis’ 1996 debut repurposed aural ghosts and ideas into a masterful astral thicket, and what’s been unfortunate about the 43-year-old producer’s career is how his masterful collages have gradually devolved into flotsam. At worst, his projects became haphazard examples of genre dilettantism: 2006’s hyphy-influenced The Outsider and 2011’s guitar-backed The Less You Know, the Better exemplified how fractured and indistinct DJ Shadow’s vision had become.
In the professional and creative senses, Reconstructed: The Best of DJ Shadow cleared the deck for Josh Davis. Released in 2012, it summarized the producer's Mo Wax and major-label years, and somewhat perversely included only one cut that originated on his 1996 landmark debut album. After a 2014 EP, the first release through his download-only Liquid Amber label, Davis completely severed ties with majors and connected with the independent Mass Appeal.
It'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.
Josh Davis passed a milestone recently: the artist known as DJ Shadow now has a greatest hits collection to his name. This suggests, of course, that he’s had a fruitful career; it also suggests that his best work is in the rearview mirror. His enduring masterpiece, Endtroducing is now 20 years old, its cover art accurately dating the music contained therein: two men thumbing through the same dusty crates where Davis himself once sought out obscure samples.
“I’m a bag of dicks.” It’s not exactly at the top of the list when it comes to redeeming qualities. Nonetheless, El-P of Run the Jewels proudly owns this statement on “Nobody Speak”, the second track from DJ Shadow’s new The Mountain Will Fall. El-P and RTJ counterpart Killer Mike ride the beat like expert skiers on the moguls. It’s one of just a few vocal tracks on the mostly instrumental 12-track album, one that finds Shadow (aka Josh Davis) leaning away from his sample-heavy style and more towards Ableton Live software.
Mention trip-hop to most vinyl lovers and chances are DJ Shadow will creep up in conversation not long after. With a reputation largely built upon his ability to expertly manipulate samples, there can be little denying he’s a pioneer with a solid reputation when it comes to creating daring instrumental hip-hop. The twelve tracks that make up The Mountain Will Fall show that 25 years into his musical career Josh Davis has lost none of his ability to create a sonic patchwork, but neither does it show any desire to stray too far from a tried and tested formula.
It’s hard to believe that Joshua Paul Davis, aka DJ Shadow, released his debut album Endtroducing….. almost 20 years ago. That record was notable for both being the first completely sampled record and for ripping up the rule book when it came to the idea of what hip hop could be. Predominantly instrumental, it was a collection that ingeniously manipulated beats and incorporated obscure samples like never before.
Twenty years on from his landmark debut, 1996’s Endtroducing, Californian Josh Davis has changed his modus operandi. His fifth album emphasises live instrumentation and innovative production software, rather than the sampling on which he built his reputation. It broadly makes for a winning reboot, from the old-skool hip-hop stylings of The Sideshow and the urgency of Nobody Speak, a collaboration with Run the Jewels, to the more menacing atmosphere of Depth Charge and the jazz inflections of Ashes to Oceans.
In an interview announcing his new album, Josh Davis called its predecessor, 2011's The Less You Know, The Better, a "parting gift" for fans who still held onto the sample-based sound he perfected on Endtroducing..... 20 years later, The Mountain Will Fall (and the Liquid Amber EP before it) marks the start of a new era for DJ Shadow, who now uses Ableton Live more than MPCs and tours on the dance music festival circuit. Liquid Amber was a rocky start, gesturing towards big-room EDM over the nuance of Davis's best work.
Man, it’s tough to be DJ Shadow nowadays, isn’t it? The problem with releasing one of the best albums of all time as your debut—as Shadow did with Endtroducing….., a masterpiece of sampling and instrumental hip-hop—is that everything you do afterwards will probably pale in comparison. This rule has certainly held true with Josh Davis, about whom hardly anything has been written (this review included) which hasn’t mentioned his debut (and, in the rare case this happens, his excellent sophomore LP The Private Press usually gets name-checked instead). Even on The Mountain Will Fall, his newest release, Davis can’t escape the past.
DJ Shadow's 1996 landmark Endtroducing… was about as ambitious a slacker monument as had ever been committed to wax (or at least Mo' Wax), a carefully curated quilt of influences, samples, and breakbeats. By comparison, The Mountain Will Fall is just slack, with perfunctory ideas waiting impatiently for guest stars to enliven them through association. Where once Josh Davis's ideas seemed to spill forth from his record crates like blood from the Overlook Hotel's elevators, the innovation has scabbed over on The Mountain Will Fall.
“Hi.” This simple utterance kicks off “The Mountain Will Fall,” the leadoff track from DJ Shadow’s new album of the same name, right before a swell of operatic sound (reminiscent of the theme accompanying the THX logo prior to a movie screening) rises from the silence. This coupling, of the slight and unobtrusive with the bombastic, is a fitting reintroduction for an artist who has made a career of fusing unlikely and disparate components into a unique musical whole. The Mountain Will Fall is the first proper album in half a decade from the artist, and it showcases a confident new direction, largely moving beyond the sample-driven work that first earned him fame.
“The Mountain Will Fall,” DJ Shadow DJ Shadow’s 1996 debut album, “Endtroducing,” is among the most pivotal recordings in recent history; armed with just a sampler, a pile of old, obscure records, and an early ProTools rig, Shadow exploded the possibilities of what hip-hop and electronic music could be. The album predicted methodologies that would become commonplace, and illuminated paths of musical creation that previously had only been hinted at. Two decades and four albums later, Shadow finds himself atop a similar creative pinnacle with “The Mountain Will Fall,” an album that bridges eras to envision what the future may hold.
DJ Shadow set a new standard for the art of sample-based composition with his auspicious 1996 debut album, "Endtroducing …" It was an album that turned snippets of obscure recordings into aural journeys, as if Shadow were orchestrating a perfectly sequenced dream, creating order out of randomness. That everything Shadow, aka Josh Davis, has created since will be measured against his 20-year-old masterpiece is a daunting prospect, but he continues to produce challenging work and refuses to repeat himself. His fifth studio album, "The Mountain Will Fall" (Mass Appeal), is no exception.
DJ Shadow 'The Mountain Will Fall' (Mass Appeal)Genius clearly isn’t enough sometimes. This album shows that DJ Shadow’s superhuman abilities – in reassembling sounds, samples, textures and melodies into something greater than the sum of their parts – have clearly been undiminished by time. There are ebbing and flowing synths that pluck at the heartstrings, single drum hits that alone can make your synapses tingle and gorgeous hooks and atmospheres agogo.
‘Endtroducing’, DJ Shadow’s debut, made for one of the most innovative and cool albums of the ’90s. An instrumental hip-hop record built entirely from samples, for all its fragmentary nature it felt smart like arthouse cinema, stirring like a classical symphony and cool like imported trainers. It’s the sort of record that’s difficult to top, but the odd thing about Shadow – a Californian crate digger named Josh Davis – is that he hasn’t really tried.