UNKLE – The Road Pt.1 (Songs For The Def)


This is a very different UNKLE from the one you met back in 1998. Gone are DJ Shadow, Thom Yorke and the hundreds of samples that comprised Psyence Fiction. Instead, trip-hop pioneer and Mo’ Wax founder James Lavelle joins forces with a whole new team of collaborators to create his latest vision for UNKLE.

James Lavelle and UNKLE have been on the musical sidelines for a number of years now…the previous album, Where Did The Night Fall, was released in 2010, and let’s face it, that one didn’t really tear up the charts.

In the interim, Lavelle has been busy. Last year he presented his Day Dreaming…With Stanley Kubrick exhibition in Soho and before that he co-produced the 2013 Queens Of The Stone Age album, …Like Clockwork with Josh Homme.

But it’s his stint as curator of the 2014 Meltdown Festival that he cites as the experience that got him thinking about making a new UNKLE record. The festival found him working with a wide array of artists both old and new…Chrissie Hynde, Grandmaster Flash, Mark Lanegan.

Lanegan makes an appearance on The Road, adding his raspy, whisky-soaked voice to Looking For The Rain, a track that starts with a dramatic burst of strings, then adds a slithering organ before kicking into a propulsive electronic beat. The track builds in intensity as Lanegan intones, “I’m looking for rain to fall”, obviously searching for some kind of redemption.

Lavelle’s forte on The Road seems to be matching unique voices to his epic songs. Acclaimed London-based singer Eska is put to good use on several tunes with her performance on the title track one of the album’s standouts.

British rapper Elliott Power shines on Cowboys Or Indian, a track that mixes hip hop, acid house and post punk with Power rapping the verses while Mink, Ysee and Lavelle sing the chorus.

The Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss is featured on Sunrise (Always Comes Around) and she is in fine form, but the real find is Keaton Henson, a 29-year-old British folk singer who has released six albums under his own name.

Henson’s gentle, breathy falsetto adds a beautiful dreamlike quality to Sonata, recalling former UNKLE collaborator Thom Yorke. He also stamps his mark on Farewell and Sick Lullaby.

Musically, Lavelle stays away from electronically generated sounds in favour of lush, swirling strings, plaintive piano and gently strummed guitars. When electronics are used, they support the singers and the songs rather than define them.

Many of the 15 tracks on The Road segue into each other and they are further connected by five brief spoken word intervals that help create a cohesive whole.

UNKLE’s The Road Pt.1, may not have you racing for the dance floor, but it will send you an exquisite musical journey…to places to may not have imagined.

Marty Duda