Unkle - War Stories
Review by Jack Foley
UNKLE have their detractors but they continue to rate among the most ambitious and challenging acts of the moment.
Whether it’s in terms of the artists they collaborate with, or the videos they produce, Unkle continually strive to offer something different from the norm. 1998’s debut Psyence Fiction drew on the talents of performers such as DJ Shadow and Richard Ashcroft to make music that transcended genre and felt geared towards the cinematic (who can forget Lonely Soul, as used on DiCaprio’s The Beach?).
While the amazing animated video that accompanied Eye For An Eye, the first single from their sophomore album, Never Never Land, was also jaw-droppingly special. (The album itself also drew on the considerable talents of performers like Ian Brown and South).
War Stories, their third album, is a dark, brooding epic affair (clocking in at over 70 minutes) that features collaborations from the likes of Josh Homme, Gavin Clark and former Cult frontman, Ian Astbury. What’s more, the first video has already proved pretty special, featuring ER‘s Goran Visnjic as a man who wakes up to find he has only three minutes to live. See why here
But what’s immediately striking about it is just how much thought James Lavelle and Richard File have put into proceedings. Tracks may take a little while to unfold, but the layering is often immaculate – acoustics give way to electric guitars, underpinned by thilling beats, atmospheric electronics and all manner of vocal contributions.
Lavelle makes his vocal debut on Hold My Hand and duets with File on Morning Rage – both to worthwhile effect.
While Astbury lends his distinct voice to the thrilling Burn My Shadow (a track that takes a little while to fully appreciate) and simmering album closer When Things Explode, another firm highlight.
The tireless Josh Homme stamps his authority over Restless to create a song that’s equally capable of appeal to Unkle purists and Queens of the Stone Age groupies, while Gavin Clark provides a similarly effective presence on both Keys To The Kingdom and Broken.
And while the emphasis seems to be more on a guitar sound this time (Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws contributes guitar riffs to Broken and Eagles of Death Metal’s David Catching crops up on various tracks), when the piano loops drop there’s still some sublime moments.
There’s even room for the ethereal on Twilight, a haunting, minimalist effort featuring Massive Attack’s 3D.
Just to make things even more noteworthy, most of the instrumentation on War Stories is played live, while the album is being released on Lavelle’s new label, Surrender All, which is designed to connect his infamously broad range of interests – music, fashion and art – through one independently run axis.
The result is a deeply imaginative long-player that’s as dark, brooding and foreboding as the era in which we live; whilst also being intelligent and creative enough to transcend genres and appeal to a wide listener base – if only people would give it the attention it deserves!
Download picks: Restless, Burn My Shadow, Twilight, When Things Explode, Keys To The Kingdom, Lawless