Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

UNKLE: Psyence Fiction

As talented as the musicians involved may be, many of the full-length offerings from high-profile DJs like California's DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) come across as somewhat stilted. One obvious reason is that mixing, scratching, and other turntable manipulation is inherently improvisational and thus best suited to live performance. As good as DJ Shadow's Endtroducing was, the disc was dated upon release by its very nature: The album is more or less just one mix made at one moment in Shadow's mind, and though he and his lightning-quick hands may move on, the album stays the same forever. That unchanging quality is the antithesis of DJing, as immutable beats are anathema, but well-suited to clunky-by-comparison rock music. Psyence Fiction, a collaboration between DJ Shadow and MoWax chief James Lavelle, comes across as a blatant stab at commercial longevity. How? By jettisoning the more abstract aspects of hip hop and cluttering the mix with numerous high-profile cameos, including Beastie Boy Mike D., Metallica's Jason Newsted, The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The songs, from a DJ standpoint, sadly suffer from Lavelle and Davis sticking to this more conventional alt-rock outline, though their strategy may end up inspiring the radio play that has eluded the new generation of turntable prodigies and studio wizards. Tracks like "Nursery Rhyme" and "UNKLE Main Title Theme" aren't exactly pop music in the Top 40 sense, but the former sounds like some flavor-of-the-moment Brit grunge act, while the latter eerily recalls The Police. Not exactly the stuff of progress. Predictably, Psyence Fiction works best when it stays close to its hip-hop roots, as on "Guns Blazing (Drums Of Death Part 1)," its sequel "The Knock (Drums Of Death Part 2)," and the old-school electro workout "Celestial Annihilation." Otherwise, Psyence Fiction can be chalked up as an ambitious failure; its principals can put it on their résumés, but cultural historians needn't put in their books.


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