Where To Start With... DJ Shadow
DJ Shadow is best known to most for his groundbreaking 1996 debut LP Endtroducing…, understood to be the world’s first album constructed entirely of samples, but his output over the last couple of decades has also taken in collaborative projects with the likes of Mo Wax founder and U.N.K.L.E. mainman James Lavelle and Jurassic 5’s DJ-in-residence Cut Chemist, as well as another three albums of his own. A fifth, The Mountain Will Fall, arrives this week (You can preview and purchase it at the top right of this page).
Despite the patchwork, cut-and-paste approach to that genre-bending debut, his albums since have had a restless tendency to shift styles and moods, incorporating more live instrumentation on albums like The Outsider. His last album, 2011's The Less You Know The Better, marked a return to a more sample-based approach and, to an extent, that continues on his latest offering.
Lead-off single and standout track 'Nobody Speak' revolves around one such sample, with vocal duties provided by El-P and Killer Mike of hip-hop duo Run The Jewels, just two of the guests on a roster that also includes Ernie Fresh, trap duo G Jones and Bleep Bloop, Manchester-based musician Matthew Halsall and German producer Nils Frahm.
The first thing to note about The Mountain Will Fall is that while tracks like 'Nobody Speak' and Ernie Fresh collaboration 'The Sideshow' both exhibit the sample-heavy production technique that has become DJ Shadow's hallmark, elsewhere on the album there's quite a lot of scope and the title track in particular is a very different beast; a warm, fuzzy slice of analogue synth-bending that wouldn't be out of place on a Boards of Canada record.
Nils Frahm adds a similarly electronic feel on 'Bergschrund', while tracks like 'Mambo' and the trap-heavy 'Pitter-Patter' take the album lurching in a different direction entirely. Like many of Shadow's albums, this feels like a journey and one that's taken in a fair bit of soul-searching, but The Mountain Will Fall also has that eclectic, anything-goes sensibility that has made Shadow's output so compelling over the years. Never one to sit back and stick to the formula, the new album is another exploratory venture that's bound to please fans, and one that shows he's still a creative force to be reckoned with.
You can listen to the Run The Jewels collaboration 'Nobody Speak' below, beneath that we've picked five of the best tracks from DJ Shadow's back catalogue...
'Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt'
It's difficult to pick just one track from Endtroducing..., simply because to do so would be missing the point of an album that begs to be listened to in its entirety, but if we had to pick one truly memorable moment it would probably have to be this. Cascading piano samples, stuttering breakbeats and haunting choral samples make this a timeless thing of beauty.
'This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)'
Probably the main highlight from 2006's The Outsider, this is a gloriously soulful track with big strings, funky guitars and a soaring vocal melody that's a million miles from anything on Endtroducing, but this marked a brave shift of style and proved there's more to DJ Shadow than cut-and-paste.
'Giving Up The Ghost'
This instrumental number first popped up on Private Press, a hypnotic, chilled-out track propelled by a kalimba riff and jangling percussion. 'Giving Up The Ghost' marks the beginnings of a departure from the purely sampled-based sound of his debut and its one of the highlights from his sophomore album.
'Stay The Course'
One of the standout moments from his 2011 album The Less You Know The Better, 'Stay The Course' features vocals from Talib Kweli and De La Soul's Posdnuos on a track propelled by a shuffling breakbeat, funky bassline, staccato strings and flutes. This is right up there with his best.
'I Gotta Rokk'
our final pick is another cut from The Less You Know The Better, a stomping, rumbling beat with handclaps, juddering guitar samples, this feel as close to a jam session as anything else, slowly winding over the track's six and a half minutes to a frenetic climax.