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UNKLE
War Stories
Surrender All Records
www.unkle.com


The double shadow of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists James Lavelle and Richard File, who comprise the British trip-hop duo UNKLE, have compiled a type of mixed tape from a genesis of opiate psychedelics and acid beats for their third album War Stories. Produced by Chris Goss (Queens Of The Stone Age, Dessert Sessions, Masters Of Reality), the album features tracks with QOTSA's Josh Homme on vocals and guitar, The Cult's Ian Astbury on vocals and guitar, and the vocal mechanics of Clayhill's Gavin Clark, Autolux's Carla Azar and Eugene Goreshter, The Duke Spirits' Leila Moss, and Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja (aka 3D). Lavelle and File's fingers are dipped into a lot of palettes on this album from prog rock and nu-gaze fuzz to orchestral pop, but even with its multiple hues the music is fixated on stoner psychedelics and trippy rhythms making the album hit a lot of bases all in the same game.

The lead track "Intro" has Lavelle on vocals playing to subdued piano keys that segue into an ominous string arrangement and an undercurrent of rumbles coming from the guitar vibrations and rhythm section. The fuzz rock transmissions on "Hold My Hand" have a likeness to spacey trips processed by bands like The Stone Roses, whereas the programmed beats and prog rock atmosphere of "Restless" have a Kasabian intoxication, especially in Homme's vocal hooks. The percussive shakers frame the movements with jittering club beats that make it work as a dance track. Many of the songs are more sedate, ripe with reefer-incensed chords like on "Keys To The Kingdom" and "Twilight," substantiated by winding guitar lines and glittering nuances. There is a folksy feel to "Price You Pay" that croons like Kings Of Leon in Richard File's vocals and in the willowy trance-hop guitar echoes.

The haunting feel of "Burn My Shadow" is brought out in Astbury's baritone timbres and the angularity and dewiness of the guitar phrases. A lot is going happening in this track causing the dynamics in the chord series and tempo to shift abruptly as Astbury concludes the song with "How I loved you" lingering on. There are factions moving beneath the surface stirring up the sudden changes. The track is loaded with surprises. The marching drumbeats played by Oliver Betts on "May Day" are reminiscent of '70s psychedelic rock aesthetics. There is a retro feel to this track like it was influenced by the underground bands from '70s rock. Other factions are representative of indie pop like the glockenspiel chimes sprayed across "Person And Machinery" adding to this number's airy nu-gaze fuzz. The quick rhythms of "Morning Pages" weave along the acid-tinged synth swivels, while the bongo sounding drums on "When Things Explode" are covered in orchestral pop tones with a bridge of ravishing instrumentation.

Lavelle and File received a lot of assistance on these tracks utilizing the talents of drummers Dave Henderson and Oliver Betts, keyboardists Eugene Goreshter and Pablo Clements, cellist Philip Shepherd, guitarists Matthew Caws (of Nada Surf), Josh Homme, Chris Goss, Luke Ford, Daniel Higgins, and Dave Catching, bassist Tony Butler, violinists Alison Dods, Calina de la Mare, Chris Worsey, and Lucy Wilkins, and arrangements by Andrew Skeet. I'm sure that I forget some musicians but it's the fact that a lot of work went into this album, and yet Lavelle describes in a recent press release that the recording process, "was totally organic, free experience…the most rewarding experience." As if it wasn't hard at all.

The listener gets the sense that Lavelle and File not only treat the music as being club ready but also as forms of art that requires close attention in order to get it, similarly to Van Gogh's paintings. It's not the swirls or the colors that change but the listener's perception about what those swirling colors do. You pick up something new with each listen of War Stories and you start to figure out that it's not as mish-moshed as it once appeared. It's art that reflects life from an altered perspective. When Astbury calls out "How I loved you," those are words from the subconscious, an altered perspective of a situation that lingers on with the artist and the listener. Lavelle and File showed signs of infiltrating the subconscious realm in their debut album Psyence Fiction and their second disc Never Never Land, but they outdid themselves with their latest release War Stories.

-Susan Frances


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