released May 11th, 2010

from the album - Natural Selection

from all music

Experimental hip-hop outfit UNKLE were one of the original artists releasing material through noted U.K. label Mo' Wax, which helped launch the instrumental mid-'90s downtempo breakbeat revival eventually termed trip-hop. Though hardly the label's highest-profile group (at least until the long-delayed release of their debut LP in 1998), UNKLE's members included label head James Lavelle, who formed Mo' Wax while still in his teens as an antidote to the increasingly stale acid jazz/Northern soul scene. Stripping the music down to its barest of essentials — bass, percussion, minimal samples, and heavy effects — the Mo' Wax sound (best exemplified by the second Mo' Wax label comp, Headz, as well as its sequel, the two-part Headz II) quickly gained respectability and a large audience. Although not as prolific as other Mo' Wax artists such as DJs Shadow and Krush, UNKLE nonetheless played a crucial role in cementing Mo' Wax's early sound though their Time Has Come double EP, the latter of which featured remixes of the title track by Plaid, Portishead, and U2 producer Howie B.

The UNKLE trio was comprised of Lavelle, Tim Goldsworthy (a mate of Lavelle's since childhood), and producer Kudo, of seminal Japanese label Major Force (and a member of the on-again, off-again psychedelic beat crew Skylab). Previous to his entry into production, Lavelle, along with Goldsworthy, was deep into New York hip-hop and electro, the emerging late-'80s Sheffield bleep scene, the English acid jazz scene (which he covered as a columnist for Straight No Chaser magazine), and of course the acid house and techno explosions that were redefining the English counterculture at the time. The pair hooked up with third member Kudo through the growing rep of the latter's Love T.K.O. project, whose outbound interpretations of breakbeat and acid jazz drew Lavelle's ear. While Goldsworthy and Kudo remained more heavily involved in nuts 'n' bolts production (especially given the success of Mo' Wax, with the penning of an expansive partial ownership deal with A&M Records in 1996), Lavelle was heavily involved in the conceptual and organizational end, crafting beats and laying out vague sketches his partners then expanded into full-blown tracks.

Despite the scarcity of released material, UNKLE grew to wider acclaim during 1996 through remix projects for Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Tortoise. After Goldsworthy and Kudo were effectively replaced by Mo' Wax bill-payer DJ Shadow, the all-star LP Psyence Fiction finally appeared in 1998. It was a disappointment considering the advance hype, and DJ Shadow distanced himself from the collective. Lavelle, amid much work as a DJ, recruited singer/songwriter Richard File for the second UNKLE full-length, 2003's Never, Never, Land. Four years later, Lavelle and File returned with War Stories, including both collaborators from the past (Josh Homme) and new associates (Ian Astbury, Chris Goss) to contribute to the heaviest-sounding UNKLE release to date. A pair of odds 'n' ends collections, More Stories and End Titles...Stories for Film (both released in 2008), featured old and new material, including music from UNKLE's soundtrack to the documentary Odyssey in Rome. In 2009 the “Heavy Drug” single announced the coming of their 2010 album Where Did the Night Fall.

album review

Doing away with any preconceived notions, UNKLE changed things up drastically for their fourth official album. With Richard File out of the picture and Pablo Clements picking up the reins as James Levelle's sideman, the duo leaves trip-hop and digitally skewed breakbeats at the wayside. As a substitute, the new incarnation goes the band route, using primarily live instrumentation and a garage rock/psych pop sonic palette. Those who followed UNKLE after the breakout success of Psyence Fiction will be familiar with Lavelle's inclinations to try to rock in a post-Spooky world, which usually led him down a road of mediocre results, but where War Stories fused electronic aspects with saturated stoner rock, Where Did the Night Fall is a focused production of thick, heavily orchestrated Brit-rock, along the lines of Clinic and Muse. Per usual, vocalists take turns, phoning in from their respective area codes, and Autolux, Mark Lanegan, Elle J, Big in Japan, Sleepy Sun, and the Black Angels turn in excellent performances. Even so, the studio band of Joel Cadbury, James Griffith, Matthew Pierce, and drummers Graham Fox and White Denim's Josh Block (among others, including the Heritage Orchestra) steal the show. The songs feel less flawed than previous experiments, with a unified vibe due to the eerie cement-wall production that overlays everything. No hip-hop MC detours. No dodgy instrumentals. Just groovy fuzz basslines, wayward drumming, chugging guitars, pulsing organs, and echoey vocals sung over minor chords that give way to tense, white-hot hooks. It’s an explicit leap into new territory for the band, and though the second half may drag a bit, songs like “Natural Selection,” “Joy Factory,” "The Answer," and “On a Wire” make for some of UNKLE’s all-time best singles, ones that rank right up there with “Rabbit in Your Headlights” and “Lonely Soul.”

Track Listing

1 Nowhere Bateman, Griffith, Lavelle :40
2 Follow Me Down Griffith, Lavelle ... 4:23
3 Natural Selection Black Angels, Griffith ... 4:10
4 Joy Factory Autolux, Griffith, Lavelle 3:59
5 The Answer Griffith, Lavelle 4:40
6 On a Wire Cadbury, Elle. J, Griffith ... 4:52
7 Falling Stars Cadbury, Clark, Griffith ... 5:48
8 Heavy Drug Bateman, Cadbury, Griffith ... 1:13
9 Caged Bird Cadbury, Ford, Griffith ... 5:08
10 Ablivion Clark, Griffith, Lavelle 4:29
11 The Runaway Elle. J, Griffith, Lavelle 3:45
12 Ever Rest Cadbury, Griffith, Lavelle 4:20
13 The Healing Clark, Griffith, Lavelle 4:27
14 Another Night Out Griffith, Lavelle 5:12