UNKLE - 'Rōnin I'

7/10

After only just delivering the finishing touches to his two-part studio album 'The Road' near the beginning of 2019, James Lavelle's UNKLE project was all set and ready to embark on a live tour throughout 2020, which included a number of DJ sets along the way. But with the pandemic putting a halt to those ideas and plans, he was suddenly sitting on a number of remixed compositions and original additions that would probably never see the light of day. So instead of holding them back, UNKLE return with a brand new mixtape of material dubbed 'Rōnin I', a rare release that has only been possible because of COVID.

Teaming up with his usual cohort of collaborators including Philip Sheppard, Wil Malone, Jack Leonard, and Alex Thomas, as well as reworked material featuring guest acts Michael Kiwanuka, Editors' Tom Smith, and The Big Pink, 'Rōnin I' looks to make its mark as a collection of untethered offerings that simply look to show the mindset of Lavelle post-'The Road'. The majority of this release is a reworked selection of cuts from their most recent album, reformatted for a live performance, and thus creating this beautifully warm and inviting release that feels far more cohesive and digestible throughout.

While labelled as a mixtape, 'Rōnin I' is more like a template to how UNKLE sound and feel during a live setting. The tracks have been rearranged and repurposed to create this wonderful ebb and flow that tries to give their fans a glimmer of what their shows last year would have been like. It may not have the same resonance as seeing them live for real, but it's as close as we are gonna get for now.

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