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. Listening to it now is to realise it’s barely aged a day, such was its forethought and lasting impact.
In the interim Davis has released a further four albums, and although many of them have been received warmly, none have reached the heights of his debut. Such are the perils of blazing trails so early in a career. That’s not to say there hasn’t been some fine work in the intervening years – even 2011’s patchy The Less You Know, The Better had gems like the loose and slinky ‘Scale It Back’ to recommend it.
So how does 2016 find Davis? Well, as it stands, on rather moody form. The relaxed charm of ‘Scale It Back’ is nowhere to be found, the immediate grip of ‘Organ Donor’ is in short supply, as is the funkiness of ‘Changeling’. Having said that ‘Nobody Speak’ featuring Run the Jewels is a highlight, which doesn’t waste the rappers’ talents whilst and maintains an engaging frame for their rhymes. A trickling guitar line builds into some nice brass work that makes it the most fun track on the album.
Elsewhere the mood is decidedly more dour. The title track opener sets the tone for what is to come. It’s a classic DJ Shadow tune - full of reaching synth lines, warped samples and satisfyingly off kilter beats. It’s also implements that slack rhythm that was so affective on Endtroducing…..'s ‘Building Stream With a Grain of Salt’.
The album indubitably tails off the further it goes along. Tracks like ‘California’ and ‘Sucide Pact’ feel dirgey and fail to leave any lasting impact. ‘Pitter Patter’ reaches for originality with a selection of experimental beats, but never quite delivers satisfaction, but rather feels like a confused mish-mash of rave-up mixed with a soulful interlude.
But despite some misfiring experiments, the first half of the record does have plenty to recommend it. The Nils Frahm-featuring ‘Bergschrund’ utilises the core strengths of his collaborator. The resulting track is recognisable Nils Frahm-ish in its musicality and DJ Shadow-ish in its beat structure, and very much a success for it. Equally, with ‘Depth Charge’ Davis creates a wonderfully foreboding atmosphere, and ‘Ashes to Oceans’ is a sumptuous, jazzy venture that covers a lot of ground in a most satisfying way.
What the record lacks in the main part is a sense of urgency and excitement. Too often the songs wash over you, making no serious appeal for your heart or mind. It would be futile and pointless to ask for Endtroducing….. mark II, and as Davis said, 'Repeat Endtroducing over and over again? That was never, ever in the game plan. Fuck that. So I think it's time for certain fans to decide if they are fans of the album, or the artist'. But, you can help but miss some of the freshness that record displayed. Conversely this feels a little too settled. That said, DJ Shadow remains a remarkable artist, and there is plenty on The Mountain Will Fall to prove that.
6Bekki Bemrose 's Score