James Lavelle has become legendary for the creation and output of his collaborative Unkle project. His sonics have made him a forerunner of Trip Hop and to many, he is the lynchpin in melding Techno with Street Culture introducing it to the musical world. In the twenty-five years since the inception of the Unkle collaborative Lavelle has continued his constant journey of discovery. Along the way, he has expressed himself in not only music, but art, technology, and fashion. His middle name should probably be multimedia.
Throughout the Unkle releases Lavelle has recruited the likes of Thom Yorke, DJ Shadow, the late Mark Hollis, Mike D., Richard Ashcroft, Nick Cave, and Robert Del Naja, to manifest his sonic visions. On March 29th Unkle will release its sixth manifestation “The Road Pt 2/ Lost Highway”. On the release Lavelle surrounds himself with another list of stellar collaborators the likes of Mick Jones from the Clash, Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Smith from the Editors, wunderkind producer Miink, Ian Astbury from the Cult, Andrew Innes of Primal Scream, Dhani Harrison, Leila Moss, Tessa Argus and on and on.
“The Road Pt 2/Lost Highway” is the follow up to 2017’s “The Road Pt 1”. That album was the first release for Unkle in seven years and was informed by modern-day London life. It was beloved by critics and landed in the top 20. It also proved that Lavelle had lost none of his vitality or originality. Part I was Lavelle and Co’s attempt to compel people onto the dance floor. It was inhabited by a spirit of discovery, naïveté and optimism about life’s journey. Part II is better characterized as a mixtape for a journey, and Lavelle’s attempt to create the ultimate soundtrack for a road trip. It displays a bit savvier, informed by the disappointments in love and losses and is more bittersweet. Part II also bears witness to an even greater variety of options on Lavelle’s sonic palette. In places, he literally revels in breaking down the walls between genres. The latest offering is quite a prolific offering up 22 songs over two disks. It was recorded between 2014 and 2018 with Lavelle as the producer. He has already stated that he intends to release a Part III that will be about coming home from the journey.
“The Road Part 2/Lost Highway” is emphatic in what it intended beginning with the spoken statement “Once you have walked the road everything becomes clear” on the first track “Iter VI”. The album launches into “Requiem (When You Talk Love)” which is a gospel-tinged southern spiritual as interpreted by Lavelle and is loaded with inspiration and a soaring sonic. “Ar. Mour” moves more into typical Unkle sonics with a heavy techno track reminiscence of Massive Attack, its twists and turns lure you in and I would not be surprised if we hear this selection on some edgy TV soundtrack in the future. Elliot Power and Miink collaborate on this one and it is an outstanding offering.
A note about the “Iter“ selections; there are six entries titled in succession throughout the release, each is relatively brief but all act as guideposts on the journey Unkle is engaged upon with the listener. The last one Iter XI is the longest and most profound with its statements about love, loss and self-awareness. The “Iter” moniker possibly derives from The World’s largest fusion project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. This is a mega project attempting to find alternative energy sources. The utilization of these titles offers an interesting quandary that could spawn many theories as to what is behind the use of these titles.
As with any Unkle release, Part II is always an adventure. Songs like “The Otherside, Find an Outsider, Nothing to Give and Powder Man” are hook-laden radio-friendly tracks that harken to the efforts of Neil Young, Bowie, and Oasis. These seem to sit well alongside epics like the Mogwai inspired “Crucifixion/A Prophet and Kubrick” which are both intense and filled with drama. The quieter tracks like “Feel More With Less, Long Gone, Forlorn Love Song and Day and Night” display evocative yearning, introspection and bittersweet regret. Two cover tracks finish up each of the discs. The first is a cover of the Roberta Flack classic “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” which features Keaton Henson and is devastatingly gorgeous as Lavelle gives the original a run for its money. The other cover is Rui Da Silva’s “Touch Me” which features Leila Moss of The Duke’s Spirit. The selection is filled with a dance inspired groove as Moss channels Bjork and Florence Welsh. Each of the 22 tracks builds on the overall themes of examining love, loss and overcoming adversity, but just as amazingly each track can also stand alone.
Lavelle has stated that his intention in making “The Road Pt 2/Lost Highway” was to create a mixtape to accompany life’s adventure and he effortlessly succeeds. There is a song for every mood. Lavelle and Co. have created an outstanding curated playlist that will linger with the listener long after the last song has ended. Lavelle with “The Road Pt 2/Lost Highway” again claims his title as a master craftsman of genre alchemy.