Technology has always had an interesting relationship with music. As acoustic instruments developed over time, new innovations came constantly, allowing for certain abilities to come easier, making the jobs of the musician both easier and harder. When a new skill becomes easier the accomplishment of the task becomes less impressive, thus a musician must continue to find new ways to challenge their instrument’s sound capabilities. In the case of music production, computer programs have made sampling and beat construction much easier to some extent, which brings up the topic of DJ Shadow, a hugely important 90’s producer who thrived on record stores and traditional scratching. Although his new album The Mountain Will Fall maintains the personality of his earlier works with a modern tinge courtesy of computerized sounds, DJ Shadow fails to outshine the current school of beat-making resulting in a slightly lackluster addition to his esteemed discography.
Shadow’s prowess in syncopation is still rampant throughout the album as he constantly changes up the flow of his beats. The computer serves as an interesting addition to Shadow’s sound palette allowing for different instruments and voices come into the fore-front to complement the drum tracks. On “Nobody Speak,” the selected muse is a bright horn section, that works alongside particularly tongue-in-cheek bars from rap duo Run the Jewels. “Depth Charge” takes on a much darker tonality with distorted guitar highlighted by dramatic strings.
The album just doesn’t always maintain its bite, generally sounding very slick. Shadow’s underground mentality on his seminal Endtroducing has been swapped out for a much more smoothed over sound with bright clean sounds. “Ashes to Oceans” relishes for too long in sweeping synths and the bass line of “California” over-indulging in retro electronic sounds. Even some of the more distorted songs sound a bit forced not truly accomplishing the natural roughness of the important younger musicians of this scene (i.e. The Range, Jamie XX).
Overall, I enjoyed listening to the album, but it is clear that it comes from a musician 20 years into their career. It is nice to hear Shadow in 2016, but the work doesn’t do enough to signify an important moment in his career.