The men from Unkle – hip-hop collage melder DJ Shadow and Mo’Wax label founder James Lavelle – have crafted a moody, textured soundtrack for a post-apocalyptic universe on Psyence Fiction (Mo’Wax/ London).
Psyence Fiction lives up to the media hype surrounding its release. Many accredited guests bring their own polished styles to the deep, multi-layered trip-hop/hip-hop compositions of DJ Shadow. Unkle spans a vast musical and psychological landscape of paranoia and angst. The results are nothing short of compelling.
DJ Shadow adds layers of drums, scratches, strings, guitars and excerpts of film dialogue to create an enigmatic yet cohesive flow throughout the album. Kool G Rap opens “Guns Blazing” with a scorching delivery woven with typical violent pop-culture references over Shadow’s blazing “Drums of Death.” The beat gives way to the opening credits of “Unkle: Main Title Theme.” The song’s mix of scratches and guitar loops sound like title music from a futuristic science fiction film that promises to be sprawling, poignant and visually stunning.
The vast instrumental collages “Unreal” and “Celestial Annihilation,” backed by London Session Orchestra, reveal the quintessential textured style of the San Francisco DJ.
While DJ Shadow shines, some all-star guests add their own vocal and lyrical styles to the project, producing the overall bleak feeling of Psyence Fiction.. Alice Temple creates chilling imagery on “Blood Stain” with the emphatic refrain, “Blood stain/a blue vein/Take it with no shame.”
Verve member Richard Ashcroft adds equally bleak lead vocals to soaring strings on “Lonely Soul.” The biggest disappointment on the album is “The Knock,” an out-of-place, annoying collaboration between Beastie Boy Mike D and Metallica bassist Jason Newstead. It is the only track with guest appearances that does not live up to expectations.
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke’s self-loathing lyrics on “Rabbit In Your Headlights” ends the album on a high note. With the same hapless tone as the 1997 masterpiece OK Computer, Yorke’s delivery perfectly complements sparse piano chords and distant drums. This track exemplifies the collective helplessness of the narrators in this futuristic world
While this concept album is based in a heartless tomorrow in which computers have replaced human responsibility, Unkle is undeniably man-made. The universal human emotions of loneliness and helplessness are embedded in a search for the soul in the brave new world of Psyence Fiction.. Although the work is merely science fiction, DJ Shadow reminds listeners of the unknown elements in the universe and their own world, “Somewhere in space . this may all be happening right now.”