It’s been a while since we’ve heard a full-length from Shadow, but wherever he’s been for the last five years, he’s been keeping his ears open. He hinted at as much on “Ghost Town” from 2014’s Liquid Amber EP, a fizzy trap instrumental that’s more reminiscent of current trendsetters like Hudson Mohawke than the reverent classicism and breakbeats for which Shadow is known. Tellingly, “Ghost Town” appears again on The Mountain Will Fall, and serves as a sort of statement of purpose: this is a record where Shadow seeks to draw as much inspiration from contemporary artists as they have from his back catalog.
Opening number “The Mountain Will Fall” announces as much by exploring the distance between Shadow and his progeny. Given the hazy sonics and flutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Clams Casino beat, until the errant record scratches that punctuate the track whirr into the frame. The song closes with the sound of a cassette being flipped—a cheeky reminder that Shadow has been in the game since before many of today’s producers were born.
Davis has had too few collaborations with rappers over the course of his career, so “Nobody Speak,” a collaboration with Run the Jewels is sure to raise eyebrows. Unlike some of his past work with emcees, however, this is a laid back affair, more boom-bap spaghetti western than furious rapping workout. Killer Mike and El-P don’t quite bring their A-game here–“I don’t work for free/I am barely giving a fuck away” is the best quotable you’re going to get this time around—through there’s an undeniable thrill to hearing these three elder statesmen in a room together, building a Run the Jewels track atop what is decidedly not an El-P beat.
Elsewhere, Shadow invites in collaborators who can pull him out of his comfort zone. “Bergschrund,” a collaboration with experimental producer Nils Frahm, is the album’s most sonically adventurous song and one of its best. In the marriage of their divergent approaches, the pair manage to find a middle ground between IDM and EDM: warped, decaying tones that ping-pong between channels, a pleasantly tactile beat and an almost dabke-like keyboard run that cuts through the song’s final section.