James Lavelle is the center point of UNKLE. One could say that Lavelle is something of a renaissance man; he’s the head of theMo Wax record label, he is a graphic designer, clothing designer, excellent DJ and father among other things. The original incarnation of UNKLE was something of a hip hop flavored affair with DJ Shadow playing counterpoint to Lavelle. Never Never Land saw DJ Shadow leaving this collaborative, to be replaced by Richard File, chief engineer for Mo Wax.
On War Stories Lavelle and File continue their relationship along with producer Chris Gross. There’s also a whole host of new guests, including Queens of the Stone Age vocalist and guitarist Josh Homme, The Cult’s Ian Astbury, and Massive Attacks Robert Del Naja among others.
When I purchased War Stories and listened to it the first time, I realized that this was a new direction (yet again) for UNKLE. This is a dark and melancholic rock album, w/ live drums, guitars, traditional keyboards, strings and bass all mixed in with electronic production that creates a fusion that is more rock than electronic. The tunes are thoughtful, with intelligent lyrics and thick layers of sound that forms a sonic landscape befitting each of the various vocalists. There are not any real vocal pyrotechnics and as with previous UNKLE records, the vocals on the tracks remain relatively subdued – you’ll probably not hear Ian Asbury sing like he does on “Burn My Shadow” again. Some tracks are weaker than others, but overall this is a cohesive and well constructed album.
UNKLE is touring with a full band, something I don’t think they’ve done before. Personally, I’d love to be
able to catch their show. Unfortunately
Here’s what others have had to say about “War Stories”:
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.
So, after trying to move things forward for so long-- first with his Mo' Wax label and then with UNKLE's early incarnations-- James Lavelle takes it back to a Britpop B-side wasteland filled with has-beens and never-will-be's. Such willful nostalgia doesn't do him many favors. While Lavelle's previous work can still be looked upon as visionary, his latest is anything but. Even with its repeatable tracks sounding instantly dated, War Stories marks the official end of this one-time progressive's soothsaying days.
What happens when rock and electronica blend together? The answer is one of this year’s best albums: War Stories. A set of intense rock songs softened and polished with electronic beats, masterfully arranged by trip-hop artists: Unkle. With the collaboration of high profile musicians as guests in almost every song, the chemistry throughout the album is pretty clear and the results are just incredible. . . .
File and Lavelle where
very careful approaching each guest in the album, brainstorming with each one of them, contributing and listening in the most democratic
way possible and not leaving anything unsaid. Mixture of ideas and styles is the soul of the album combining indie rock, hard rock,
alternative rock, electronica and trip-hop giving War Stories an intense bittersweet sound. Its intensity flows thanks to the talent
and parallel thinking of everyone involved in the making of this album.
File and Lavelle where very careful approaching each guest in the album, brainstorming with each one of them, contributing and listening in the most democratic way possible and not leaving anything unsaid. Mixture of ideas and styles is the soul of the album combining indie rock, hard rock, alternative rock, electronica and trip-hop giving War Stories an intense bittersweet sound. Its intensity flows thanks to the talent and parallel thinking of everyone involved in the making of this album.