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Archive for Thursday, October 15, 1998

S LATEST MIXES WELL

October 15, 1998

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Despite the range of singers and genres on the LP, no single piece distracts from the whole.

New York Daily News

Mix The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, The Beastie Boys' Mike D., Radiohead's Thom Yorke and celebrated electronica stars DJ Shadow and James Lavelle, and you've got the men from Unkle: a kind of one-performance-only supergroup that sounds nothing like the thrown-together mishmash you might expect.

In fact, Unkle's album, ``Psyence Fiction,'' has been marinating for more than three years.

Lavelle built a reputation in the world of underground club and hip-hop music with his label Mo Wax, which released albums by Money Mark, Attica Blues and the acclaimed 1997 debut by DJ Shadow, ``Endtroducing.'' He won extra points with his inventive remixes of records by Radiohead, The Verve, Massive Attack and Beck -- accounting for the celebrity contributions to Unkle.

Despite the range of singers and genres on the LP, no single piece distracts from the whole. The album weaves in elements of straight-on rock, folk-jazz, hip-hop and soundtrack music, yet finds a compelling motif in its dynamic use of drums.

Essentially, Unkle does for the beat in electronica what Roni Size did for the bass. Size put more free play and melody into the four-stringed instrument than had been heard in any previous genre effort. With Unkle, you could listen to the whole album for the percussion alone. The artists weren't kidding when they titled two tracks ``Drums of Death.'' Throughout the album, drumbeats charge through the mix -- sinewy and deep. It's not the super-fast rhythm of drum-n-bass music, more like the muscular recordings of '70s jazz-fusion (think: Billy Cobham).

While the resulting album still has the arty quality of trip hop, there's more middle to the sound than you'd hear on albums by, say, Massive Attack or Tricky. There's a full riot of guitar riffs on ``Nursery Rhyme,'' while in ``Bloodstain'' a rich tapestry of warm and slippery guitar chords floods the number. The latter track features compellingly wan vocals from newcomer Alice Temple.

Famed wretch Thom Yorke puts in one of his classic alienation anthems in ``Rabbit in the Headlights'' over a percussion pattern that could come straight off a classic Blue Note jazz release, while The Verve's Ashcroft floats his boyish voice over an undulating bass in ``Lonely Soul.'' The lyrics to the latter, like many songs here, mull the big questions.

Ashcroft can't figure out whether his soul has been set free or adrift. The music matches the mystery. Even the instrumentals here set a mood of dark yearning, creating one of electronica's most engrossing entries yet.

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