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Posted on May 26th, 2010 (2:52 pm) by Nicholas Henderson

Once upon a time, back when some of us were still children listening to whatever the radio played us, trip-hop was exploding all over the still-localized world of independent music. Bands like Portishead and Massive Attack were taking the style and essence of classic hip-hop and turning it on its head. The results were inspiring enough to cause rock bands like Radiohead to take a closer look. Between the enraged lovesick violence of “Talk Show Host,” to Thom Yorke’s haunting verses on the DJ Shadow catered UNKLE track, “Rabbit In Your Headlights,” there was a growing appeal, particularly in Britain during the mid 1990s, to cast aside many of the traditional approaches to contemporary rock and roll in order to appropriate and reconfigure the elements of the preeminent genre of the time, sample-based hip-hop.

Trip-hop has since lost nearly all of its thunder, and last time we checked, DJ Shadow was on some sort of some left field crunk trip, but hip-hop itself has grown and branched a great deal in the United Kingdom, spawning many influential artists along the way; the album narratives of The Streets comes to mind, and if you haven’t checked Kano’s verse on Gorillaz’ latest, you are missing out. The emerging dubstep movement has managed to preserve some of what made trip-hop interesting, running it through a downbeat drum and bass tempo, but, by and large, hip-hop has been content to move on without its more melodic sibling, and the rights to sample-based hip-hop seem to have been left in the hands of the independent rap set and the scattered remains of the Wu-Tang Clan. While everyone in and out of the hip-hop world seem to be more interested in tweaking auto-tune and trying to fit the heavy shadow cast by hip hop’s woman to beat, the impeccably original M.I.A., James Lavelle, otherwise known as UNKLE, instead retreats to a rockist comfort zone that, while consistent and instrumentally dynamic, is ultimately disengaging and unenthusiastic.

The first impression upon hearing the record is likely to be an approximation of, “this sounds like Thievery Corporation, but where are all the fun beats?” The common thread that ties the whole album together is a flaw, and that flaw is that, transcendent passages and moments aside, Where Will the Night Fall just never manages to gather enough momentum over the course of its fourteen tracks to justify itself. As a rock album, it lacks just enough substance to relegate it to the ‘whatever’ pile, and as an album of psychedelics and electronics and thumping bass-lines it lacks all of the glitter, the grease and the gold to make it a passable dance record.

Coming in at just under an hour, Where Did the Night Fall only flirts with greatness until the record’s only true highlight, “The Runaway,” which many listeners may never get a chance to appreciate if and when they switch off after a song or two. What makes “The Runaway” such a success is its adherence to its suggested serving size and denomination. Almost every other song on the album suffers from being too many different things at once. Watered down krautrock rhythms flirt with Middle Eastern melodies for a worldliness that feels tacked on and detrimental to the songs, which at heart, are solid compositions. One can imagine a gang of ‘sophistos’ in some Clockwork Orange fantasy looking bored in a trendy club listening to Where Did the Night Fall play in the background.

Ultimately, it might be unfair to judge UNKLE’s latest too harshly. James Lavelle may be stumbling along the path to continued relevance, but his intentions are good and that is evident on all but the least imaginative of the songs represented on the album. It does not help that 2010 has seen the release of more than a few quality albums by some really great bands. Unfortunately, what UNKLE sounds like in 2010 just doesn’t sound very 2010 at all, and not in the way Janelle Monáe sounds like she’s from the future. No, not in a good way at all.

Track List:
1. Nowhere
2. Follow Me Down ft. Sleepy Sun
3. Natural Selection ft. The Black Angels
4. Joy Factory ft. Autolux
5. The Answer ft. Big In Japan (Baltimore)
6. On A Wire ft. ELLE. J
7. Falling Stars ft. Gavin Clark
8. Heavy Drug
9. Caged Bird ft. Katrina Ford
10. Ablivion
11. The Runaway ft. ELLE J
12. Ever Rest ft. Joel Cadbury
13. The Healing ft. Gavin Clark
14. Another Night Out ft. Mark Lanegan

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

49 / 100
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