UNKLE – The Road: Part II (Lost Highway)

While being able to pull together a record as eclectic as The Road: Part I back in 2017 was certainly no easy task, being able to produce a follow-up that exceeds it in ambition, as well as a run-time, is almost herculean. The hero’s journey is wrought with dangers, but the founder of the acclaimed electronic outfit, James Lavelle, is not one to shy away from a challenge, and with The Road: Part II (Lost Highway) (Songs for the Def) we’re not so much retreading old ground as we are revisiting it with a fresh perspective.

The wide-eyed optimism and excitement at the start of the journey is not gone, but it’s been met with tender melancholy that matches the ebb and flow of any expedition into the unknown.

Returning are the dark, melancholic spoken-word interludes that joined together the more immediate beats, delicate piano, and ambience of the previous record. Just like with Part I, they evoke the reflective inner monologue of one’s mind, as if you were walking alone at night and all you had for company and comfort were your own thoughts. It adds another depth to the cinematic feel of The Road as a whole, especially when the Chemical Brothers inspired trance-like haze bleeds into the second act with these repetitive beats layered underneath, mimicking the repetitive trudge and stomp of endlessly placing one foot in front of the other.

Lavelle said of life after The Road: Part I that “It wasn’t about trying to make people dance in a nightclub. It was a breath of fresh air, and about playing a more eclectic mix.” To that end, Part II takes an even bigger step away from Lavelle’s previous recordings, encapsulating “…letdowns, highs, lows, love, loss, and experiences” all through a plaintive soundscape. Lead single ‘Ar.Mour’ featuring Elliott Power and Miink lends a certain mystery and unknowing to the first act and the repeated use of “I put my armour back on” foresee the letdowns, lows, and loss Lavelle refers to.

The most uplifting part of the record comes right at the end with a very welcome injection of pace and groove, paired with a heartfelt vocal performance from Liela Moss of The Duke Spirit. It’s fitting as it adds a dash of hope as the second part of this trilogy comes to a close and shows the growth that can be achieved near a journey’s end.

Lavelle has described the record as more of mix tape rather than one continuous record as a large portion of the songs were created during The Road’s first entry, but the journey Part II takes you on is best experienced in its entirety. The record is divided into two separate acts that should ideally be absorbed in one sitting, so get your best sounding headphones, go out for a long walk, or perch yourself somewhere you won’t be disturbed for eighty minutes and allow yourself to float.

7 / 10

ROSS JENNER