War Stories

(Surrender All; 2007)

By Clayton Purdom | 26 July 2007

Fishinabarrel. Remember UNKLE? James Lavelle is still around, here with his third record, and it is exactly what you expected. There are sweeping, cyberpunk strings, gliding angels of death on "Chemistry." There are buzzsaw, cyberpunk guitars ("Burn My Shadow"). There are pleasing, cyberpunk drums, at once crisp and muddied, that (now happily rid of DJ Shadow's influence) hit in insistent 4/4 time--because why make shit funky when computers can make shit fucking metronomic? And, like all other things UNKLE, there are guests: Ian Astbury stops by; 3D stops by, too; Josh Homme, who at this point just seems to be interested in the very idea of being on other people's records, stops by as well. A litany of expectations are defiantly fulfilled here, with a courageous rebuke of the notion that artists should "grow" or "stop using guest stars" or "ditch rocktronica." War Stories satisfies a hunger nobody had and, thusly sated, I can safely return to not giving a fuck about UNKLE. As shall you. As shall us all. Well, not everyone. James Lavelle probably cares a lot about UNKLE, a fact that a) makes me feel bad about this piss-take but mostly b) makes me wonder what his impetus is to enter the studio. This is his third album in ten years, and only one of those (1998's Psyence Fiction) was any good, and that was only because DJ Shadow did the drums and Thom Yorke wrote a song for it and at the time a superstar cyberpunk record seemed like a pretty good idea (it wasn't). Three albums in ten years ain't much, and, to be sure, War Stories bears the hallmarks of studio perfectionism. One pictures James Lavelle so focused on getting the individual characteristics of the crash cymbal represented that he forgets where the fuck in the drumroll that crash is located, and (more importantly) what boring go-nowhere crescendo that drumroll leads into. But ignoring these he clucks with approval at the perfect sound of that crash because goddamn! does that crash sound good when it crashes. Every track on this record grows into some such perfectly orchestrated climax, surging as a function of the production alone and with nary a hook or clever turn of phrase or structural complication in sight. On "Persons & Machinery," it kinda works; the groove of the final minutes doesn't attempt any greater catharsis than the drums themselves can create, and the bass continues its slow slide down, a moment of shocking understatement on an album of maximalist freakouts. But if I played the track anywhere else, at any time, it'd be boring. It shines here in contrast alone. This critic does not recommend War Stories. Get Maths + English instead. And if that conclusion seems a bit half-assed, it's because this record's already soaked seventy minutes of my time on each listen, and this thirty-minute fart of a review is a pain enough already. I'll grow up when you do, UNKLE.