Saturday, June 25, 2016

D.J. Shadow - The Mountain Will Fall Review

I've never known what it feels like to be constantly compared to something, but if I had to guess, it must suck. After sitting down with DJ Shadow's The Mountain Will Fall, I did my usual research, which involves, if available, reading various outlet's reviews. From NME to Slant to Consequence of Sound, every last one chomped at the bit to mention Shadow's legendary Entroducing..... at first instance, something that has haunted him since releasing it in 1996. A classic case of an ambitious debut that'll inevitably disappoint listeners from there on out, DJ Shadow has been constantly trying to evade his own shadow, the looming edifice lording over his career, despite the fact that each album following it has never tried to replicate or correlate to his introductory work. Regardless of lofty comparisons, it's clear Shadow has struggled in the new millennium, releasing albums in The Outsider and The Less You Know, The Better that attempted to stay with the times, only to fall behind. The Mountain Will Fall bears similar connotations but succeeds in some respects by having a skilled producer curating the jumbled instrumentation that shows off his sheer versatility.

The first sound many heard from his fifth LP was 'Nobody Speak,' a Hardcore Hip-Hop collaboration with political bandits Run The Jewels. Excellent single fodder, the track, as is evident by a glance at the feature list, hardly represents the whole. In fact, the identity of The Mountain Will Fall seems lost throughout its duration, constantly jumping between ideas, layouts, and structures, pivoting every chance it gets. Rather than fit a single atmospheric setting or provide minimal concepts to the overall palate, something he's done previously, Shadow chooses instead to diversify his bonds in an attempt at blanketing an entire genre of Instrumental Hip-Hop. At times, this is the album's biggest success, but easily it's hardest downfall, failing to stir up any kind of momentum before ideas break off and fracture within themselves. Elevated in the middle of the LP, the three-song stretch of 'The Sideshow,' 'Depth Charge,' and 'Mambo' show this disorderly assortment to a tee. Achieving dubious honors of biggest blunder, 'The Sideshow,' and its goofy sample-cluttering, DJ-scratching, one-dimensional Boom Bap rap verses, enters a portal and wakes up in 2006 where, even in comparison to Cut Chemist's The Audience's Listening, the track sounds tacky.

And poof. Just like that we're launched into the dystopian future of 'Depth Charge,' equip with molten metal providing a stench to the track that reeks of hyper-vigilant film soundtrack, followed by 'Mambo' and its kitschy dance tutorial, similar to 'Right Thing' off The Private Press with much less concentration and rhythm. It's easy to say as a whole Mountain makes little sense, teasing ideas without ever focusing on a single one. The closest Mountain gets to consistency is found on its final five tracks, as they all share a common bond of perilous conflict. This is best seen on 'Ashes To Oceans,' which features trumpeter Matthew Halsall and a bevy of jarring setpieces interrupting other ones. It's the longest track here and a solid synopsis of the album as a whole, tumbling through freeform drum sections and vast expanses of fertile, organic instrumentation. Others, like 'Pitter Patter,' bring in Soundcloud bass producers to diversify Shadow's stage, while 'California' sees what the pioneer can do with chopped n' screwed vocals and bass music on his own. They're mostly a wash, fun to listen to, but don't add up to much.

This is how I feel about a lot of tracks here. They contain a heaping of flair, panache, and style, but have applied zero cohesion and mass to their individual pieces. Really, the LP can be split between templates and tracks, as the first half harbors a handful of songs that bode well as completed products. The opener 'The Mountain Will Fall' is likely the best song here in the long run, sporting true progression that sees every passing moment more interesting and important than the last. 'Three Ralphs,' relying strongly on Drum N' Bass, succeeds because it has a clear start and finish, with a succinct beat switch brought on by a nice interlude sample, rather than a disjointed melding of ideas like some tracks suffer from later on. And while I don't find it breathtaking the technical giblets flashing in and out of 'Bergschrund,' partly thanks to German composer and auteur Nils Frahm, makes for a well-produced track that's needed amongst a sea of disarranged theories. It's a shame, Mountain as a sonic venture is one hell of a trip, the sounds consistently impress, but as a long-term project it's staleness can already be observed.

So here I am, no better than the other reviewers out there comparing Shadow's work to his opus. He's long since past those days of boundless ambition, focusing rather on the present, following trends, seeing what he can and can't accomplish that up-and-comers are attempting. Turns out the successes, as would be expected, are 50/50, with some pieces too convoluted for their own good, while the others thrive off a level of intrigue and enjoyability. The lack of impetus Mountain claims really is its biggest hindrance, without a purpose the LP plays out like a mixtape that feels contingency is pointless. One idea here, another funky bass-driven beat there, Mountain surely has its moments. The scatter-brained longingness of 'Ghost Town,' the times when 'Ashes To Oceans' turns into a torn down Jazz session, and the moments 'Mambo' hits on all cylinders are just a few examples. On the flip side, each one of those tracks comes equip with their own issues, a real negator to the true power that could've existed within Mountain. For now, DJ Shadow's ideas are still luminary, sometimes grand, but occasionally misguided.

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