I feel somewhat honoured to review what UNKLE (headed by founder James Lavelle and now joined by Pablo Clements) describes as “the beginning of [their] careers”. With a history that spans fifteen years and four albums, this is only the beginning? With such high standards, I can tell Where Did The Night Fall is going to be good.
It’s easy to believe Lavelle when he says his music is “inspired by the moving image”. UNKLE paint beautiful pictures with their music, with catchy rhythms and electronic effects serving as a soundtrack. Although by no means what could be described as happy, their music exudes a positive vibe. In comparison to Lavelle’s previous work – take the catchy songs in War Stories (2007) as an example – it’s more expressive, mysterious and dreamy. Lavelle says his alternative electronica music has changed over time but “the spirit is the same.”
The album begins with ‘Follow Me Down’, which is layered electronica so chilled it borders on house music. It is accompanied by mature female vocals, which become increasingly haphazard as the song progresses. There are several changes of direction in the song, which begins with a light tone and ends with what sounds akin to the dramatic introductory soundtrack from 2001: A Space Odyssey. These musical climaxes appear recurrently throughout the album.
The electro-pop elements of ‘Joy Factory’, with clangorous tones and monotonous male vocals, evoke images of a dream land in some far-flung corner of space, a futuristic theme that is hinted at when contemplating the accompanying album art. The complexity of the layers here is astounding – they pull it off without sounding messy or too experimental. Again, the song has a positive feel, but in a detached, peculiar kind of way.
Their capacity for imagery is perhaps a surprising outcome for an electronic, dance album. ‘Falling Stars’ is another track that conjures images of a mysterious time and place. Beginning with guitar, the track is solid yet subtle, with placid vocals and understated melodies. Their electronic effects bring an otherworldly element to the music once more, and it’s definitely a stand-out track.
Second last on the album, ‘The Healing’ is less adventurous but still enjoyable. The vocals are more melodious and a tambourine is introduced. Although a little repetitive, the song erupts into an anthemic climax which is a suitable high point for rounding off the album. The bonus track ‘Close Your Eyes’ is a also great addition, having a remarkably ‘world music’ sound through a combination of electro guitar lines and ethnic rhythm parts.
Where Did The Night Fall is a range of rich, sophisticated songs, suitable for electronica fans, who will appreciate UNKLE’s fresh and creative approach. Kudos to you, UNKLE, for your incredible first step – paradoxically – “into the real world”.