Review Summary: UNKLE's third decade as a band and they're just getting started
Aside from Massive Attack’s earnest, and somewhat misplaced, attempts at reviving trip hop and cleaning it up to its disillusioned state that it reveled in 15 years ago, the genre as a whole has somehow managed to enter into an almost comatose state, apt given the very feeling it sets out to achieve. MA aside, the genre’s main progenitor’s have all moved on, choosing to dabble in even more unconventional waters; sure there are plenty of Kruders & Dorfmeisters in the world to keep the slow boat rolling along at its accepted pace, but they all seem to be concerned with moving in the more minimalist European circles, always searching for the café chic cool rather than the hazy slow burning soul of yesteryear. DJ Shadow, one of the genre’s main flag bearers, who in the process of almost single handedly spawning the damn genre (who when releasing an album so magnanimous in its splendor almost destroyed the infant he created) was quick to move onto more glorious pursuits; his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to music now currently seeing him tagging up with the Cut Chemist more nights than not. Tricky is off doing god knows what (and I don’t even think he could give you a straight answer as to what he actually is up too, or has been all these years); Portishead have decided to dabble in shades of Krautrock, and Thievery Corporation have entered into a romance with dub as of late. The point is the foundations of the trip have realized that a good thing can only go so far before something new has to be implemented, and again, aside from MA, most have succeeded in finding a home away from home; some, but not all.
Avoiding the always interesting argument over who should be awarded the accolades regarding UNKLE’s infamous debut Psyence Fiction
, it still needs to be said that the album was something of a small landmark in the scene. It was that rare album that while hitting you harder than a ton of bricks right at the get go, also had the uncanny knack of burrowing
its way into you, its effects still reeling you back in days later. Whether or not James Lavelle (generally the only constant in the ever changing lineup of UNKLE) has been trying to find his way back to the mind frame he found himself in circa 1998 is a question for another day, but since Shadow’s departure from the fray every album that followed has distanced itself further and further away from the band’s initial spectacle. That’s not to say that they didn’t manage to get the job done right though; the 5 year wait between Psyence
and 03’s Never, Never Land
could have yielded better results, but that album was still a hell of a drug to get through. While going criminally underrated it still managed to satiate the trip heads that had been champing at the bit for just a few years too long. Sadly, time hasn’t managed to do the boys any favors though, with their last few rounds seeing them hitting the floor more times than they’d probably like. Choosing to move into more alt rock and borderline brit pop-like circles as of late, UNKLE too have managed to move away from their paranoid like beginnings; whether it be for personal vested interest or maybe a more business savvy ideal remains to be seen, but while Where Did The Night Fall
share less than nothing in common with each other, WDTNF might just be the most consistent thing Lavelle and crew have put out since their innocuous beginnings, and its only taken 14 years.
Perhaps Lavelle’s new found enthusiasm for delivering quality product is a result of a cohesive team behind him. In the first instance in the band’s history have they finally managed to record back to back albums while retaining the same staff throughout. Perhaps the comfortable nature and the familiarity are contributing factors for the improvement, but UNKLE haven’t seemed this relaxed yet still incredibly focused in years. Barring the short intro of ‘Nowhere’, the album begins in high fashion with ‘Follow Me Down’ a track dedicated to inspire, content with its Middle Eastern meets Bjork mashup stylings. ‘Natural Selection’ brings the retro in a big way, catchy and yet unassuming, preferring to just be there rather than do anything in particular. ‘Joy Factory’ works in a very dream pop kind of way, the whole song giving off a very underwater like quality, flowing naturally, choosing to hit you in bursts and waves.
‘The Answer’ signals the first anthem call of the album, a downtempo gem full of vibrancy and life when it finally rolls around to its climax, an almost blatant sing along chant that while coming across as a tad forced still retains a huge sense of earnest and longing, the perfect counterpoint to rally around. ‘Caged Bird’ goes for the jugular, and interspersed with moments of swirling and suspenseful guitar tones lies a hook that pulses and burns more than any strobe light ever could, effective and yet delightfully quintessential. And while Lavelle brings in as many outside influences as any other UNKLE album, one of the big surprises here is the unassisted ‘Ablivion’, that proves that Lavelle is in fact more than competent in carrying a song using nothing more than his own obvious talents. Bouncing off a processed and polished percussion line, strings and synths are the only other compliments on offer that when all tied together end up producing the perfect soundtrack to soar through the clouds. But perhaps the brightest moment on offer in Where Did The Night Fall
is when it signals its last call with ‘Another Night Out’. And “last call” might just be the right term here, as guest vocalist Mark Lanegan croons whiskey deep over an almost contemplative backdrop, his voice bringing to mind images of sunlight poring in through the windows of any nameless dive, filled with lost romantics and the ever longing. It’s a poignant moment to end on, and one that manages to sum up the albums thoughts in one fell swoop.
Where Did The Night Fall
manages to reveal new facets in the façade of Lavelle and his band of cohorts, and for a group who already wear more than their share of hearts on their sleeves is truly something. Looking ahead 6 months into the future it’s hard to say whether or not I’ll still care for this album, but right now it represents a melancholic yet still playful and passionate sound that manages to warm the soul after hours, and as such I just can’t get enough. And while I do look back with a certain longing at 1998 and wonder at what could have been, its still great to see UNKLE working in new areas and finally doing the job right.