Hidden Bops: “Psyence Fiction” by UNKLE

Arts & Entertainment

Cianan Meagher, Staff

Header Image: Mo Wax


Henry Rollins, punk icon and former Black Flag frontman, is probably best known for his provocative and inflammatory stage presence during the height of his career in the early 1980s. But, later years revealed a burgeoning maturity and softer side to his rough and tumble persona as well as a more varied and nuanced taste of music than the ferocity of his former punk mask would suggest. And, in his brief stint as a guest video jockey on MTV, the renegade renaissance man would make an impassioned plea with the Generation X youth of the day to listen to something other than the Billboard Top 40.

Much like Rollins pleaded with Gen X to expand their musical taste in the 90s, I also want to preach the benefits of a broader musical palette with this column by recommending lesser known and older selections of my own. You might love some of these albums and hate others, and that’s okay, we all have varying tastes; but, as Rollins advocates, limiting your playlist to only your comfort zone is robbing yourself of a wider world of music.


UNKLE is headed by James Lavelle and DJ Shadow, pioneers in the development of electronic music and hip-hop respectively. Released in 1998, the group’s debut album “Psyence Fiction” is an experimental mixture of genres which lends to its unique sound and diverse features list, with guests ranging from alt-rock icons like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to hip-hop staples like Mike D of Beastie Boys fame. At the time of its release, the album received a mixed reception from critics that were disappointed in the less accessible, avante-garde direction the group decided to take with their impressive list of high profile collaborators, prompting Shadow to disown the project entirely over the negative press, but over the years it’s developed a cult-status among electronic and trip-hop fans alike.

Why you should give it a listen

For better or worse this album sounds unlike anything else I’ve ever listened to. Its unique mix of electronic, hip-hop and alt-rock is truly something to behold. This eclectic hodgepodge of genres and artists is something that, by all reason, should be nowhere near as competent and coherent as it is. Lavelle and Shadow did a fantastic job at creating an atmosphere of a late 90s UFO-conspiracy-tinged fever dream, with one critic describing the album as the “soundtrack for a surreal, melancholy art film that exists in Shadow’s and Lavelle’s heads.” Truly, the fledgling group was able to put together a fully realized, if unconventional, vision. If an unorthodox marriage of some of the most popular underground genres from the turn of the century sounds like something you’d have a passing interest in, I suggest you check this album out.

Highlights For Your Playlist:

“U.N.K.L.E. Main Title Theme”

Like the theme song for a dark sci-fi Saturday morning cartoon that never existed, this instrumental track’s catchy sample and hypnotic beat make for an upbeat track that would be right at home on a workout playlist for when you need some motivation.

“Rabbit in Your Headlights”

Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals, combined with a moody piano and an unexpected beat drop at the half-way point make this track a melancholic but satisfying listen. It would make a great addition to a bag playlist for when you just need to be in your feelings.


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