Describing James Lavelle’s twenty-five-year career as eclectic would be an absurd understatement. Under the pseudonym UNKLE, he’s released eight studio albums in collaboration with the likes of Thom Yorke, Beck, and, most recently, folk-rock artist and poet Keaton Henson. UNKLE’s ninth venture, which is due to hit shelves on August 18th, is The Road: Part 1—a fifteen part rollercoaster of conflicting sounds. It’s a ride.
As is typical of a Lavelle venture, the album collaborates with a range of huge, and up-and-coming, names in music. The Road: Part 1 showcases the talents of Primal Scream’s Andrew Innes, Jon Theodore, Twiggy, Beck’s Justin Stanley and a handful of newer acts.
Speaking of the album, Lavelle said: “I hadn’t made a record in a long time, and the incarnation of UNKLE had changed in that now, it was me on my own. For that reason, I wanted to make a record that I hadn’t been able to before, going back to the roots of where I came from, with a foot in modern London”
But the fact Lavelle is the only member of UNKLE doesn’t touch his music. His collaborations steal the spotlight from the get-go, with the second track ‘Farewell’ merging the sounds of SÉE, ESKA, Elliott Power, Keaton Henson, Liela Moss, Mïnk, Dhani Harrison & Steven Young in a mecca six-minute gospel anthem. The track starts softly, harmonies melting into gentle piano melodies to create a serene tone.
The album quickly switches things up with ‘Looking For The Rain’, a much grittier track with subtle classical and dance undertones. The rest of the album is just as unpredictable, with ‘Cowboys or Indians’ testing the waters of alternative, and the lyrically led ‘Nowhere To Run/Bandits’ verging on the frontiers of rock.
The album’s namesake ‘The Road’ is a rollercoaster its own right. The track starts out slow, quickly building into a mesh of quick beats and staccato vocals, before breaking down again into what could almost be a ballad. It ends in a busy mess of layered vocals and drums, the chaos perfectly personifying its name.
The Road: Part 1 is a difficult album to get a grasp on. The constant flips in tone, genre, and speed are interesting from a musicology point-of-view, but the effect is much more of a mixtape than a record. The album is a crammed with talent – it might just take some convincing that it belongs together in this format.