UNKLE
Psyence Fiction


4.5
superb

Review

by Joseph Aubrey Castenell USER (6 Reviews)
December 16th, 2010 | 48 replies


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It happened again.

An excerpt from T. S. Eliot's 1922 Modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.


During the waning seconds of "Transmission 3"--the final moments of "What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 - Blue Sky Revisit)"--the Twin Peaks-sampled voice twice-repeats the warning: "It is happening again". The last utterances of the schizophrenia-tinged recording that is Endtroducing are not so much a retreading of vague events that this record's play alludes to, but moreso a foreshadowing; crate-savvy sound engineer meets shrewd business mind--Josh and James, respectively--UNKLE bringing the menacing sounds of paranoia to an electronic fever pitch.

Psyence Fiction is the product of artistic progression. Endtroducing, as a whole, thrives on the strength of its more open-ended eclecticism: the free-wheeling enthusiasm of "The Number Song", instrumentally contextualized in the vein of golden age hip-hop, ad nauseum, and the ethereal atmosphere of "Stem/Long Stem", bringing to mind "Soundscape To Ardor"-esque ShirĊ Sagisu, all wrapped in the ominous, jazzy narcosis of Permutation-era Amon Tobin, sprinkled generously with equal parts percussion, funk, and psychedelia; the soul is in the samples.

Its successor is a much more streamlined effort. In trimming some of the quirkier elements of his debut, DJ Shadow positions his copy/paste techniques as building blocks; though, the foundation of his songs still largely deal with the interplay of samples, obscure or otherwise, past or present. However, when he chooses to employ the help of other featured artists, in real-time, the previous interplay becomes an infinite spiral of creativity; original songs becoming the foundation for future original songs. The past becomes the present becomes the future; and vice-versa.

Moreso--or rather, fittingly--this record's aesthetic is spacey; in dimension, as well as dimensions. This is space rock, in the purest of senses; check: Star Wars samples + Twilight Zone samples + Galaxian samples... Zappa was pretty out there, too. In this way, each song is wrapped in these large, cosmic pockets of sound, and given the proper room to develop in and of themselves, but with enough semblances to feed off of each other when listening in succession.

Diversity becomes symbiosis. Kool G's multisyllabic, Mafioso flair in "Guns Blazing (Drums Of Death, Pt. 1)" is the direct foil to Mike D's more calculated and emphasized delivery in "The Knock (Drums Of Death, Pt. 2)". The misleading, acoustic-fronted serenity of "Chaos"--with the assistance of Mark Hollis' piano playing--leads precisely into the subdued, and mournful, fury of the Thom York-fronted "Rabbit In Your Headlights". The light humor of "Getting Ahead In The Lucrative Field Of Artist Management" is the perfect counterpoint to the orchestral crescendos of the latter moments of "Lonely Soul". Not to mention, the natural sequencing of the songs on the album and how one vocal sample answers the queries of another; "Bloodstain" asserts that we are alone, while "Unreal" offers assistance, like a demented exercise in call and response.

It's far too easy to get wrapped up in the intricacies of this album, but at the base of these conspiracy theories are excellent songs; the product of meticulous musicianship, attention to detail, and an appreciation for understatement. The most apt example occurs in the pre-gap. Don't misunderstand it. "Intro (Optional)" is crucial, and as important as any other piece of music Joshua Paul Davis has composed during his genre-splicing career; the appropriate bridge between his first and, what is, arguably, his second album. Beginning as abruptly as "Transmission 3" ended, it makes use of over 60 samples during its 2-minute runtime, before it resolves into the sounds of static and silence, respectively. Polite coercion gives way to perfect cohesion. And though, it seems, records should be--first and foremost--processed objectively within their own individual frames of reference, DJ Shadow's career has highlighted the importance of hindsight/keeping a watchful eye on your surroundings; not unlike the fixated gazes of the Futura-print alien deities that lord over the album's front cover.

The Surrealism of Salvador Dali slathered across the film noir canvas of LIMBO. As I sit here, in an attempt to finish this review, my thoughts travel elsewhere. Brian's "On Some Far Away Beach" drifts into Liars' "This Dust Makes That Mud", like a distant memory. My mind loses any desire to differentiate as it is engulfed by the all-encompassing nature of words and sounds. Maybe, not so much the crunch of the sand and the stirring of the waves, as much as the collecting of dust and the crackling of vinyl; Psyence Fiction plays like an all too familiar game of six degrees of separation, where the pieces aren't all too familiar, and neither was really separate to begin with.



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user ratings (212)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
Ryan W. (4.5)
Very accessible and UNKLE's finest...

Nick Butler EMERITUS (3.5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
JustJoe
December 16th 2010


1399 Comments


Let me explain.

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


31627 Comments


My head asploded

Digging: Theo Parrish - American Intelligence

DarthBlubber
December 16th 2010


218 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

OMG...

DarthBlubber
December 16th 2010


218 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

So I have an exam this morning and I basically just got up, logged in, saw your review up, and just dived in... that was a mistake. I'm basically reading this review over and over in a trance like state... concepts of survey design have all left my mind, as it is now flooded with... I don't even know what it is even flooded with to be honest.

JustJoe
December 16th 2010


1399 Comments


In my defense... "Outro (Mandatory)"

Though, I am proud of the finished product, I regret how dependent this review became on the concept of "sampling/name dropping". Also, I've forgotten how to think, and write, and listen to music, entirely. I will probably cease doing all three, from henceforth. My life is ruined.

Regardless, thank you for the read, Dev. & Darth. I do appreciate it.

Winsomniac
December 16th 2010


8014 Comments


Shallow and pedantic, Joe. Shallow. And. Pedantic.



Pos'd.

Digging: Submotion Orchestra - Alium

JustJoe
December 16th 2010


1399 Comments


It's nice to be understood, Win.

=]

pizzamachine
December 16th 2010


12572 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"This is space rock, in the purest of senses"

Cool, I'm getting on this.

JustJoe
December 16th 2010


1399 Comments


Your rating makes me happy, pizzamachine.

JustJoe
December 18th 2010


1399 Comments


Thanks, silent. Your rating is best.

coneren
December 18th 2010


11111 Comments


UNKLE STEVE IS HERE

JustJoe
December 18th 2010


1399 Comments


*UNKLE JOE IS HERE

Fix'd.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
December 18th 2010


7321 Comments


Wow. Just wow.

First off, my apologies for not having noticed this review sooner (exam season - so please do forgive me). Secondly, this review certainly has a LOT going for it - you hint at a LOT of cool ideas throughout its length, and it certainly feels like you're going somewhere, especially in the final third...my problem is that I don't feel like I necessarily get there.

I'm having trouble explaining myself here so let me try again: the review is great, but it is a bit of a mess in the sense that it's hard to make sense of it, and the structure doesn't flow altogether that well. For example, the transition between talking about points isn't very intuitive, and that ends up hurting the writing structure quite a bit. The bit about The Wasteland also feels disjointed and out of place (mainly because its overall relevance was not highlighted enough). That said, this was a very cool concept, and I strongly encourage you to keep hammering at it.

On a final note, this review reminds me of thebhoy's piece for Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz. For this style of writing, I would prescribe said review as recommended reading.

Do have a pos.

JustJoe
December 18th 2010


1399 Comments


I appreciate you taking the time out to read/decipher this review. Overall, I attempted to mimic Shadow's wide array of samples, through the use of name dropping as a method of qualification--obvious and not so obvious--and how they come together to form a greater product. Some of the vagueness in the review, especially with regards to the T .S. Eliot poem, are meant to mirror the moments on the album where samples appear to be out of place, but in the end are made relevant/crucial to the album as a whole, though they may not have been explained. I will take your advice though, and hopefully return to this review after a while, maybe fleshing out the ideas a bit more, and broadening the scope of my analysis, to aid the flow of ideas.

Thanks, again, Irving! I'll make sure to do your critiques, and this album, justice.

pizzamachine
December 18th 2010


12572 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Haha, Irving being a tough critic again! ;) Beast review! I guess the only annoyance was that there was so much going on that it was rather confusing. Btw, the album rules!

JustJoe
December 18th 2010


1399 Comments


Gracias, pizza! Looking back, I think the review was too ambitious, or too brief. Hopefully, lengthening it will make the references seem much less disjointed, and I'll have a more of a chance to focus on the particular strengths of some of the standout tracks--"UNKLE Main Title Theme", "Bloodstain", "Lonely Soul", "Rabbit In Your Headlights".

Irving
Staff Reviewer
December 18th 2010


7321 Comments


@ Joe: Don't get me wrong mate - this was a great piece of work. It just needs a bit of polishing. Something tells me you're off to a phenomenal start, and might just be the next big thing on the Sputnik horizon =) Keep at it!

@ Pizza: LOL, do you really think I'm a tough critic? You haven't seen nothing yet! You'll know how tough I can REALLY get when your next review comes out!

Hahahah jk jk. You write good, Pizza; seriously there's a lot of amazing writers on this here site. At the risk of starting a circlejerk I'll say that I have learned lots from your reviews, so kudos. And thanks! =)

pizzamachine
December 18th 2010


12572 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You're very welcome!

JustJoe
December 18th 2010


1399 Comments


*group hug*

=]

pizzamachine
December 19th 2010


12572 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

kinda like the album

Nice understatement there.



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