From its roots as a UK based Hip Hop and breakbeat outfit, UNKLE, aka James Lavelle, has morphed into a hugely sweeping, cultural collaboration. The fifth album, The Road:Part 1 acts as a melting pot for innovation and is the result of Lavelle’s involvement in the Meltdown festival a few years back.
The album is divided into five sections entitled Iter 1 to 5. These Iters act as short intros which set up the next flavourings and define the album into chapters of sound. The album opens with the beautiful ‘Farewell’, a huge string based affair with some sublime vocals, which display his talents that have seen his records on film scores by the likes of Stanley Kubrick, which was exhibited at Somerset House. Lavelle has always had a visual approach to his work and this album is no different with videos and a short film set to accompany this release, as well as having a variety of award winning artist contributing to the style of the double album's artwork.
The album continues with a wonderful collaboration written and performed by Mark Lanegan. ‘Looking for the Rain’ is described as a call to arms in our turbulent world and is assisted by the excellent Will Malone of Massive Attack's fame on string arrangement. This album is a hugely impressive affair and is obviously something that has been developed and created with the idea of celebrating and including an eclectic mix of sounds. It’s grandiose yet appears new and fresh. This is helped by the huge addition of new artists Elliott Power, Mi¨nk and YSEE who appear throughout the album. They appear on the brilliant vocal lead track, ‘Cowboys and Indians’, it has a gospel feel as well as containing the beats that have always been Lavelle's trademark. The same combination appears on the equally stunning ‘Sick Lullaby’ which draws the album to a close with beautifully-haunting, wide spanning, almost cinematic empowered strings.
This is someone who is clearly able to use and respect the talents of others, Lavelle himself explains that:
“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”.
‘Nowhere to Run', ‘The Road’ and ‘Arm’s Length’ are more frenetic with head bobbing basslines. Frantic sections of multi-layered beats and a host of added distorted guitars echoes as slick rhymes allow these tracks to come across relevant and very laid back. It displays Lavelle's ability to completely change sound and direction almost at a whim. This is displayed in tracks such as ‘Stole Enough’ and ‘Sonata’ which are beautifully crafted. The slow movements are both soft to draw in the ear yet haunting enough to be a compelling listen. With ‘Sonata’ the slow build to a wonderful crescendo of beats and interwoven sound is one of the stand out tracks of the album.
Tracks ‘The Road’ and ‘Sunrise (Always Comes Around)’ brings to close a wide ranging and simply beautiful album. Its sweeping strings and controlled beats encompass the sheer vastness of Lavelle’s talents. His ability to craft seamless orchestral beat driven music creates huge landscaping sounds that feel like it’s been 25 years in the making. The good news is that The Road: Part 2 is already underway and will be with us by the end of the year.
The Road: Part 1 is available from iTunes.