Very few musicians cast a bigger shadow than DJ Shadow (Josh Davis). His debut album, Endtroducing… is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made, and whilst his more recent work hasn’t received the same sort of rapturous reception, he’s still a highly respected producer (as evidenced by his ability to score high-profile guest performers). However, said recent work has resulted in his influence waning. Where once Davis’ work was credited with kickstarting instrumental hip-hop as a genre, his later albums have been regarded more as curiosities. They’re interesting, but Davis failed to match his early output. Unfortunately, The Mountain Will Fall very much falls into this category.
Davis has been quoted as saying that he aimed to become “one of the best” artists using the Akai MPC sampler, yet on The Mountain Will Fall, he seems to venture more into the areas of contemporary digital-audio workstations, and synthesis. Whilst Davis’ skills with the MPC are unparalleled, his level of creativity with feels decidedly more rudimentary. The album very much feels like an artist experimenting with a new workflow, and sound, without having actually put enough time into it to create something distinctive. California sounds like many artists from the LA instrumental hip-hop scene (like Nguzunguzu or Kingdom), without the swing and abrasiveness that lends them their particular style. Mambo could almost be a Hit-Boy beat, or a more off kilter version of the beat from G.O.O.D Music’s Mercy. Most of the tracks ape some sub-genre of electronica to a significant degree, and whilst they all sound smooth and well-produced, they don’t sound like something to the calibre of what DJ Shadow should be doing.
It’s telling that the most energetic and entertaining track on the album doesn’t feature much input from Davis himself. The beat on Nobody Speak is largely perfunctory, consisting on not much more than a metronomic bass and drums, with occasional instrumental fills. However, Run the Jewels dominate the track, with El-P and Killer Mike’s intense vocal styles energising the song far more than the beat, and their typically boisterous, anti-authoritarian lyrics – “flame your crew quicker than Trump f**ks his youngest” – lend the song a real-world edge. The difference between their contribution and Davis’, is that their style is unmistakable. Their voices, subject matter, and intensity create a sound that can’t be anything besides Run the Jewels. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the instrumental on the track, and the same problem extends throughout the record. The Mountain Will Fall is a perfectly adequate electronica record, but it’s a poor DJ Shadow one.