UNKLE‘s fifth studio album The Road: Part 1 is an intriguing examination of self, a transformative album that chronicles songwriter James Lavelle’s fall and subsequent rise.

The journey is introspective and deep, full of dark canyons and mysterious forests. To add texture to his soundscapes, Lavelle commissions a squadron of skilled vocalists including Elliott Power, Eska and Keaton Henson to name a few. Together they create a fable-like narrative that delves headfirst into universal themes like love and self-discovery.

In classic UNKLE fashion, Lavelle embraces a multitude of genres, each expressing the emotional roller coaster he’s experiencing. Hip-hop, deep house, rock and pop all find a place on his palate and he paints with dexterity, reflecting an educated and thoughtful appreciation for each genre. It propels the memoir forward, providing a proper backdrop for him and his cohorts to tell their story. A solid return full of provocative twists and turns.

Farewell

A moody and atmospheric goodbye that leaves the heart aching for more. The orchestrations cascade from above, and the blending of electronic and acoustic instruments create an immediate warmth. The premises is simple enough: when life is tough, they don’t want the other person to let them go. They’re relying on them to be strong when they aren’t, a request that demands steadfast commitment: [LISTEN]

Looking for the Rain

Dark and brooding, and laced with prophetic ideas. It’s fire and brimstone, the apocalypse unfolding in broad daylight. And while it may sound macabre on the surface, the underlying theme is rooted in hope. Lanegan is asking for the rain to fall as to cleanse the inequity plaguing the land. It’s the four horseman, a legion of locusts, the man in black looking to reclaim the land: [LISTEN]

Cowboys or Indians

A hodgepodge of musical styles create a landscape full of mayhem. The backbeat drives forward and clears the way for heavy orchestrations including an ominous piano lick that haunts the senses. Power made a deal with the devil, and he’s lamenting over his loses. His soul is gone, and his sins are the only thing left. He’s looking for redemption, trying to survive by exorcising one demon at a time: [LISTEN]

No Where to Run/Bandits

The foundation has collapsed, and all the beauty that once was is left in shambles. The thrashing guitar simulates the chaos, and the protagonist is doing his best to navigate the madness. The fire is slowly building and his rage gets the best of him, culminating in an explosive rant. He’s looking to run from his past, but his demons are quick. They keep up, never allowing him to escape: [LISTEN]

 ‘Stole Enough

With a well-placed Pharcyde sample, UNKLE continues the theme of confronting one’s past. But once the funky nugget fades a more somber mood descends, an analysis that takes a deeper look at the inner sanctum. In this chapter hungry ghosts wander the land aimlessly, looking for a body to occupy. They are looking to reanimate and bring warmth back to a barren and cold existence: [LISTEN]

Arm’s Length

Deep house is the backdrop, and whereas other jams were more heady this one embraces humankind’s primal nature. An instinctual progression that lets the body and soul respond in an unfettered manner. Despite the freewheeling attitude, self-exploration is still the main idea and dedication is key. Without it there would be no pay-off, and in the end it’s a matter of how much one can endure: [LISTEN]

Sonata

Another slow builder, a haunting ballad that chills to the bone. The vocals sweep in and out like billows of smoke, creating a dense atmosphere where no space is left untouched. Love is the main theme, and the idea is a terrifying prospect. To commit to someone is to let your guard down and trust, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is let someone love you. Another step towards redemption: [LISTEN]

The Road

Swirling psychedelics chronicle a long journey home. The pace shifts from easygoing and mild to freewheeling and frenetic. It is full of peaks and valleys, with each moment offering up something in return. It’s all about inclusion, and by the end it’s clear that the wisdom he was looking for was inside him the whole time. The clouds break and a moment of clarity shines through: [LISTEN]

Sunrise (Always Comes Around)

The mood shifts dramatically, from sullen and introspective to hopeful. The beat creeps in slowly, a delicate chord progression that calms the senses. Then suddenly the break splits wide open, unleashing a deep house backbeat that pulses with life. A lush synth simulates a moment of transcendence and just as the feeling is about to peak the beat returns ushering the mind to its final destination: [LISTEN]

Sick Lullaby

Weeping strings mark a somber end to the album, but instead of sulking Henson forges on to greener pastures. Love is the foundation, and even though times are difficult compassion will always triumph. He’s letting his other half know that he will be there no matter what, that his arms will always be open and he’ll never let go. It’s a bright spot in a dark land, a beacon of light worth following: [LISTEN]