Unkle seem to continually toy with their style - and thus the expectations of their listeners. What started off as a beat-heavy pairing between James Lavelle and DJ Shadow on Psyence Fiction quickly turned into an electronic cinematic soundscape with Lavelle and Richard File for Never, Never Land. From there things transitioned into a more focused rock sound with War Stories, before drawing on a hodge-podge of the former for the "kitchen sink" release End Titles... Stories For Film.
Throughout all of these the core of Lavelle and whomever-he-happens-to-be-partnered-with-at-the-time supplement their sound with a wide array of guests. In a way, this broader collective of guest artists are as much a part of the Unkle ethos as anything else. And for their latest release, Where Did The Night Fall, they also display how that mass of influences can begin to break apart.
Things start off promising. After a short intro, Sleepy Sun contributes to "Follow Me Down" which is a dark and trippy female-led slice of psychedelic electro-rock. It's a slight departure for Unkle, but one that works and is a compelling start to the record. Equally attention-grabbing is "Natural Selection" featuring The Black Angels. It marries a deceptively sing-songy vocal part to a really tight and British Invasion-esque rock amalgam of lots of different stylistic parts. Some of the energy is lost with "Joy Factory", although it still contains a monotone-but-sexy floatiness to the track. By the time "The Answer" rolls in, you find yourself wanting to use the word 'psychedelic' quite a bit more, yet in a good way. It's almost as if Massive Attack had gone down the Flower Power route.
Elle J and previous contributor Gavin Clark both contribute to a pair each of tracks, starting with "On A Wire" and "Falling Stars", respectively. The latter is easily the more successful offering, although both seem to suffer from a lack of polish in vocal execution (a continual gripe I have of Clark's contributions with the group). These tracks create a lull in the middle of the album, and although servicable as deep cuts, they do let the air out of the tires a bit.
"Heavy Drug" serves as a wispy instrumental segue to the second half. And fortunately songs like "Ablivion" bring a bit more solidity to some of the sounds heard earlier in the album. But it's quickly followed by "The Runaway", which after you dig through the slick production, you're just left with a rather empty husk of a song. By the time you get to "Ever Rest" you realize that there has been a bit more (if at times subtle) electronic flourishes to this record, although still in service of the alternative rock focus that began with War Stories. While the song isn't otherwise immediately rewarding, it does yield a bit more fruit with repeat listens. Which in a way could be said for the album as a whole. The more it spins the more it layers its web; but from there it's simply a matter of whether people will - or should - put in the effort to let it subtly grow. After all, this is music, not homework.