DJ Shadow is a hard artist to figure; on paper his career reads as wildly inconsistent, full of peaks and valleys. But in a broader sense he is as important to rap culture as any of his peers, a figure who single-handedly changed the landscape. For DJ Shadow’s latest album The Mountain Will Fall we unfortunately get more of the same. A project that flirts with greatness but fails to deliver.

For The Mountain Will Fall DJ Shadow embraces synthesizers and live instrumentation versus samples. It opens doors that were previously left shut, but the freedom doesn’t necessarily make it palatable. Each beat stands alone and the narrative thread that made him such a revered producer is nonexistent.

The strongest beats come via the collaborations, the pressure is evenly distributed instead of being placed squarely on his shoulders. “Nobody Speak” feat. Run the Jewels is a force, a song that has all three complimenting one another’s style: [LISTEN]

Nobody Speak

Throughout the album DJ Shadow makes some odd twists and turns. Some of the beats are so esoteric it loses its warmth, tunnel vision that erects unnecessary walls. Songs like “Mambo” and “California” are woven together in a broken beat style, but it sounds unnatural and forced. As if he had rushed the end product, which goes against Shadow’s bread and butter; the fine attention to detail.

Still, there are bright moments and they manifest in songs like “The Sideshow” where Shadow is blending multiple eras. He is at ease and the smooth ride gives Ernie Fresh a proper bed to rhyme over. And if there’s a blueprint for how Shadow should have handled things it’s on this one, where he finds himself balanced and in the moment instead of 50 years in the past or future: [LISTEN]

The Sideshow