Where Did the Night Fall
So when does Unkle succeed? Well, when the balance of Rock, Electronic music, and Pop all come together in a nice cohesive little package. If any of these elements is even a bit off, the entire house of cards is going to fall. But when these elements are all in concert (so to speak) - well then, then there is some real goodness to behold.
Unkle (or U.N.K.L.E. same thing) made a very strong first impression on me considering at the album that got my attention - Psyence Fiction - had DJ Shadow as half the production team. Add to that a host of impressive collaborators and yeah, of course, I'm going to be all over that shite. That album to me was very consistent with what I loved about DJ Shadow - sample-heavy songs with many, many layers that made you forget there were ever samples to begin with. James Lavelle was the other half of that production team, and I think what he brought to the table was a sense of popular rhythm and a willingness to try a few new genres. Subsequent releases did not include Mr. Shadow (DJ if you're nasty?) and though this bothered me for about 2 minutes, I got over it when I heard that the new direction was basically the same as the old one albeit with less obvious reliance on samples and a heavy emphasis on Rock sounds. So I became a fan of Unkle's stuff regardless and have checked for each new release from the "group" (I loved Never, Never, Land). This current release carries on that tradition of music made with an ear towards the Electronic music aesthetic but with a distinct Rock and Pop influence and remains about as consistent as "War Stories" (which is to say about half of this is just OK while the other half is pretty good).
(As an aside, I should clarify that I don't mean "Pop" to mean something that is popular in this context. I am referring instead to a sense of Pop melody - meaning something that would have a chance at being popular if people were a bit more demanding in the music that the radio plays.)
Anyhow, that perfect mix of elements for a good Unkle album is unfortunately not always here for me on this latest release. The major manifests itself in a few places ("Natural Select" and "Joy Factory") and comes close in others ("Follow Me Down" and "Abilivion"). It's a bit disappointing that on back to back releases about half of the songs were just decent because when they are good they are really good. It seems almost like a formula - make a few really good songs, and give some passable filler.
"Natural Selection" meets the criteria for the great Unkle song - its got enough Electronic influence to distinguish itself from a standard radio-rock-song. Its got enough Rock elements (yay! guitars!) to sound a bit edgy. Its got a catchy rhythm and melody - enough to make you nod your head in part. I mean, why can't more of it be like this? Compare this to "The Healing" that has plenty of Pop and Electronic but fails the Rock test.
"Joy Factory" is another amazing track. I was surprised how much I liked this consider how abivelent I was about Autolux at the Broken Bells concert (and btw, I know that it's Autolux on it, but damn if it doesn't sound like a bit like Clinic for a moment).
For Unkle fans, if you bought the last album buying this one will feel like Deja Vu. For non-fans, start with the 5 star tracks, then maybe buy Never, Never, Land if you can dig those.
3.833 out of 5
|1. Nowhere (00:41)|
|2. Follow Me Down (feat. Sleepy Sun) (04:23)||4|
|3. Natural Selection (feat. The Black Angels) (04:11)||5|
|4. Joy Factory (feat. Autolux) (03:59)||5|
|5. The Answer (feat. Big in Japan) (04:41)||3|
|6. On a Wire (feat. ELLE J) (04:53)||5|
|7. Falling Stars (feat. Gavin Clark) (05:49)||3|
|8. Heavy Drug (01:13)|
|9. Caged Bird (feat. Katrina Ford) (05:08)||3|
|10. Ablivion (04:30)||4|
|11. The Runaway (feat. ELLE J) (03:46)||4|
|12. Ever Rest (feat. Joel Cadbury) (04:21)||3|
|13. The Healing (feat. Gavin Clark) (04:27)||3|
|14. Another Night Out (feat. Mark Lanegan) (05:12)||4|