James Lavelle and the return of Unkle

Mo Wax founder and producer, James Lavelle, has been throwing sonic shapes for the good part of two decades.  Forming the seminal record label, along with his school friend, Tim Goldsworthy, they pioneered the trip hop and electronic London underground of the mid 1990’s.  Goldsworthy left soon after while Lavelle released the lauded, ‘Psyence Fiction’ in 1998.  A high watermark that he’s failed to match since.

Lavelle’s name is synonymous with innovation and collaboration within the dance fraternity.  At times though this seems a little misdirected.  Apart from those initial forays into trip hop, rap, house and turntable artistry, which culminated in the Mo Wax release of DJ Shadow’s era defining album, Endtroducing, and the aforementioned UNKLE debut, his output is frustratingly inconsistent, often impeded by the number of collaborators and consequently over produced.   Goldsworthy meanwhile went on to start the influential New York record label, DFA, with James Murphy.  He has since had great success with nu-wave bands, The Rapture, Hercules & Love Affair and Cut Copy.

Seemingly making up for lost time and in a current whirlwind of productivity, Lavelle has become a bit of a workaholic of late.  After taking nine years to release two UNKLE albums he has since completed another three in just four years.  Using the same title as last year’s album, ‘Where did the night fall’, his latest offering is basically a collection of all the work he’s released over the last 12 months, including album and two EP’s, with an additional few rare and exclusive tracks.  Confused?  You’re not the only one.  Sometimes persistence can be rewarded.  Unfortunately in this instance, it’s not the case.

There were some things to admire about last year’s, ‘Where did the night fall’Lavelle seemed to pick his collaborators more wisely, less based on celebrity, more on economy.  He reconstructed his sound from the Brit rock of ‘End Titles….Stories for Film’ into electro psyche rock, re-entering familiar territory, with metronomic beats and rich, layered textures.  The guest vocalists were woven into the fabric of the song, rather than glued on at the end.  Although the sound at times was too bombastic and again, over produced, but getting back on the right path.  

So it seems a shame that Lavelle has taken yet another step back.  Recently released, ‘Only the Lonely’ EP, is featured here, with many songs salvaged from last years album sessions, featuring long time collaborator, Gavin Clark, the Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss and none other than the prince of darkness, Nick Cave.  Although the same problems still persist.  All the clever sequencing, use of reverb and taut atmospherics can not hide the persistent problem of a lack of personality in the music.  An exception and the best song here is Cave’sMoney and Run’, which has a great Industrial-psych blues groove and Cave howling over pounding drums.  Sadly all the other songs don’t have Cave as a conduit.  Sure, the likes of Moss and Clark sing their parts proficiently, but a lack of lyrical nous and song definition fails to highlight one song from another.  

The new tracks brought to the mix don’t offer redemption.  ‘When the lights go out’ is a standard rocker, buried under a fog of sound.  ‘Not a sound’ is a Death in Vegas style instrumental, with post rock reverb and chugging guitar.  Turgid at best.  It’s as if Lavelle is still trapped in the 1990’s and like his fellow peers, Massive Attack, seems unable to produce an album that isn’t suffocated by studio programming.  Curiously the last song, ‘Every Single Prayer’ offers a little respite from all the bombast.  A distant relative of Thom Yorke’sRabbit in your headlights’, with sparse, shimmering piano, Clark sings a prescient warning for Lavelle, “Don’t let me down / You know I’ll never come again!”


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