By: Eric G.
James LaVelle and DJ Shadow are the duo at the core of U.N.K.L.E. This project has been brewing for two years in an effort to secure name brand guest vocalists like Thom Yorke, Mike D., and Richard Ashcroft. Shadow, whose album Entroducing secured him a place in history as one of the most innovative audio collage artists around, cuts, pastes, spins and samples all of the music while the guest vocalists write and record their own parts. LaVelle's role in all of this is more of a director as opposed to a musician. The ideas are his and Shadow translates them into music.
Psyence Fiction starts off aggressively with Kool G Rap's hell-fire and brimstone rhyming over top loops of old school beats and a morose bass line that looms like a dark cloud. Shadow doesn’t rely on any specific genre for his samples nor does he adhere to a consistent pace even though the mood is overwhelmingly dark- a tone set firmly in place by the third track, "Blood Stain", with vocals by Alice Temple. The album practically climaxes with "Lonely Soul", which features a brilliant performance by The Verve's Richard Ashcroft. His voice is rich and confidant underscored by a loose, trip-hop loop. An eerie orchestral melody battles Ashcroft in the chorus, and eventually takes the song over as the loops drop out, leaving just Ashcroft's voice, careening and unsettled.
"Nursery Rhyme" kicks off the second half of the album with a catchy metal riff that Shadow layers with over driven snare samples and throbbing bass lines as though he's lampooning the metal genre, but in the context of this album it seems more like an homage. Beastie Boy Mike D.'s contribution breaks up the somber mood with a light-hearted foray into a fusion of futurism and old school rap much akin to his band's current release, Hello Nasty. Thom Yorke's "Rabbit In Your Headlights" brings the album to its true emotional climax. Shadow creates the ideal backdrop for Yorke's pitch-perfect, angelic voice, pairing a light piano sample with a gestured waltz-like beat that waits for Yorke's final explosion like a cat anticipating a lunge at a kill.
It's easy to view the idea of this album as a trendy cashing in on the newfound critical acclaim of its famous guests, but that would be an uninformed assumption because both Yorke and Ashcroft signed on to this project way before their respective bands shot to international stardom. And when an album is this good it hardly matters what the motives are.