At this point in the game, James Lavelle’s UNKLE collective has had so many different players and guests pass through its ranks during its 20 year history, that in many senses it feels more like a brand than a band. While the overall sonic imprint of the outfit has changed depending on who’s been at the production helm (previously DJ Shadow, Richard File and Psychonauts / Toydrum’s Pablo Clement), it’s remarkable how consistent its overall aesthetic and sense of cinematic atmosphere has remained during these evolutions, with Lavelle taking on the role of curator arguably more than anything else.
In particular, there are two things that know you’re always going to get on a UNKLE album – sophisticated and well-crafted grown-up pop, and the odd memorable guest vocal appearance. Following two years on from 2017’s ‘The Road Pt. 1’, this second chapter in Lavelle’s ongoing trilogy follows a very similar sonic path to its predecessor, but in this case the more outre dancefloor flirtations are pared back in favour of a deeper and atmospheric listening experience that Lavelle describes as a mixtape and a journey.
Like its preceding chapter, there’s the same sense of structural and narrative arc at work here, with the music tracks being interspersed with similar brief spoken segues. While at 22 tracks over a total running time of 80 minutes there’s an awful lot to take in here, when this album fires on all gears it results in some spectacular moments. ‘Requiem (When You Talk Of Love)’ provides a stunning curtain raiser as Mark Lanegan’s distinctive weathered vocals echo out against a spectral backdrop of swelling strings and spoken samples that resolves itself into shimmering Tangerine Dream-esque synth arpeggios, before ‘Ar:Mour’ casts a gaze back to the halcyon days of Mo’ Wax as a nineties hiphop break locks in against ominous synths and guest vocalist Eliot Power contributes rapped / sung vocals that sit somewhere between 3D and Terry Hall.
While some of the more crossover -single oriented moments here misfire slightly (see ‘The Other Side’, which sees Editor frontman Tom Smith wandering somewhere between Coldplay and Interpol over a saccharine backing of emotive strings and indie guitar, when they’re successful it’s worth it, as in the case of the eerie ‘Powder Man’ which features Masters Of Reality’s Chris Goss on vocals and comes on more like an ambient take on Queens Of The Stone Age. UNKLE albums have always resembled slightly overstuffed chocolate boxes, and this one is certainly no exception. That said, fans who enjoyed the first volume are likely to find plenty to like amongst this second chapter of James Lavelle’s road.