UNKLE

The Road: Part II (Lost Highway)

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The reanimated UNKLE's second album in three years consists of recordings made before and during the period that produced The Road: Pt. I. Orchestrator James Lavelle has likened it to "a mixtape and a journey." Although the subtitle echoes David Lynch's 1997 film, the album's travelogue quality -- with a mood and pace akin to operating a steamroller through a graveyard-shift landscape where slag heaps are the only scenery -- evokes a dystopian version of The Straight Story. Long enough to nearly fill a 90-minute cassette, this plays out like an extended alternate version of Pt. I. It's similarly dominated by pensive ballads with mournful strings, cyclonic synthesizers, and churning guitars shaken up by the odd, hurtling rhythm. Likewise, many of the featured players return in similar roles, from Mark Lanegan, who again sets the tone in salvation-seeking form, to the Duke Spirit's Liela Moss, who once more makes a late appearance in a moment of hard-fought dancefloor release. The mixtape designation and wider scope enable Lavelle to rationalize some of his more audacious ideas, like throwing in a histrionic version of the Ewan McColl (via Roberta Flack) classic "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and a windswept Neil Young emulation titled "Powder Man." All the ruminations on distress, contrition, and recovery are enlivened somewhat by flashbacks to Lavelle's formative hip-hop years, like the Skull Snaps break and Al Green sample that support "Ar.Mour," and a direct reference to DJ Shadow's "Lost & Found (S.F.L.)," a landmark release on his innovative Mo Wax label. Lavelle's trading on past glory and continued sifting through fallout can be wearisome, but his high level of enthusiasm can be sensed throughout.

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