DJ Shadow’s 1996 debut Entroducing represented a coming of age for sampling culture but was also a straitjacket for the artist born Josh Davis. He’s spent the past 20 years trying to escape the record’s legacy, with often enervating and occasionally half-cocked results.
But the 43-year-old has finally located the ‘reset’ button, with a new album that conspicuously rejects Entroducing’s cut’n’paste mode of production and instead embraces real instruments and sample-free beats (he has lately sworn off sampling perhaps recognising that, after years of “crate digging” it had become an artistic dead end).
The switch-up has had a liberating effect on the intense and introspective San Fransisco native, who has devoted much energy railing against music piracy (you can imagine how much that has accomplished).
‘The Sideshow’ (with rhymer Ernie Fresh) prostrates itself at the altar of old school hip hop and Shadow brings some of his best grooves to ‘Nobody Speak’, a hook-up with alternative rap duo Run The Jewels. There’s lots of experimentation too: ‘Ashes To Oceans’ splices progressive jazz and chilly electronica; ‘Suicide Pact’ sounds like post-rockers Mogwai gone country.
From completely out of left field meanwhile is Bergschrund, a gauzy collaboration with German composer Nils Frahm.
For better or worse, Entroducing is the project with which Shadow will be forever synonymous. However, the Mountain Will Fall pushes beyond that fact and finds Davis in a buoyant frame of mind.
In early middle age, there’s a temptation to conclude he has made peace with the past and at last feels free to look with to look with hope to the future. The Mountain is an extraordinarily liberated record — and, needless to say, the best the artist has produced since he changed the face of urban music two decades ago.
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