Psyence Fiction

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Psyence Fiction
Studio album by
Released24 August 1998 (1998-08-24)
LabelMo' Wax
Unkle chronology
Psyence Fiction
Never, Never, Land
Singles from Psyence Fiction
  1. "Rabbit in Your Headlights"
    Released: 1998 (1998)
  2. "Be There"
    Released: 8 February 1999 (1999-02-08)

Psyence Fiction is the debut studio album by British-American electronic music group Unkle, released on 24 August 1998 by Mo' Wax. The creation of the album was helmed by the duo of James Lavelle and DJ Shadow, with the former overseeing the album's themes and the latter handling musical composition. Psyence Fiction also features contributions from a varied cast of guest musicians recruited by Lavelle.

Psyence Fiction reached number 4 on the UK Albums Chart and number 107 on the US Billboard 200.


"Unreal" is an instrumental version of the song "Be There" (featuring Ian Brown), which was released a year later as a single. On some early pressings of the album, instrumental versions of "Guns Blazing" and "The Knock" were added as tracks 13 and 14. On some re-releases of the album, "Be There" was added as track 13. Some versions (mainly the Japanese release, but also the US promotional copy) contain the hidden track "Intro (optional)" as "track zero", which is actually the pre-gap (index 0) of track 1. This can be accessed by "rewinding" the first track on some CD players.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[1]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[2]
The Guardian3/5 stars[3]
Q4/5 stars[6]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[7]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[8]

Psyence Fiction was widely anticipated due to its high-profile cast of collaborators,[11] with Shadow's involvement in particular leading to expectations that the album "would be a sort of Endtroducing..... Part II".[12] It was ultimately released to mixed reviews,[11] with many critics finding that the album failed to live up to pre-release hype.[8][11] John Mulvey of NME wrote that Shadow's music "rarely gels with Lavelle's chosen singers or even comes to terms with the song (as opposed to groove) format of much of the material".[4] Guardian writer Caroline Sullivan said that the album successfully sustains its "foreboding" mood, but added that "its strength is also its weakness: somewhere amid the sprawl of bad dreams it turns into nothing more than meandering tunes with spooky keyboards attached".[3] The A.V. Club's Joshua Klein criticised Unkle's decision to eschew hip hop in favour of a "more conventional alt-rock outline", concluding that "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."[13] Critic Robert Christgau gave the album a one-star honorable mention, deeming it "Not beautiful (or weird) enough for its own beats".[14]

Among positive reviews, Barry Walters of Spin wrote that DJ Shadow "frames suitably eloquent voices with chaotic but never overwhelming aural bricolage", calling Psyence Fiction "the illest soundclash since the last time a B-boy crashed a George Romero film festival and refused to turn off his boom-box".[10] Writing in Rolling Stone, Lorraine Ali found the album to be "neither a lofty concept album nor the sonic equivalent of cinema", but concluded that "it is Shadow and Lavelle's striving for such greatness that makes UNKLE a compelling work in progress".[7] Entertainment Weekly's David Browne wrote that despite the presence of filler, "the best bits... are like a soundtrack for a surreal, melancholy art film that exists in Shadow's and Lavelle's heads."[2] Gareth Grundy of Select wrote that Shadow's production provides the album with coherence, and that when he and Lavelle "click... it hums with joie de vivre – the sound of a vision thrillingly realised".[9]

Disillusioned with the project, DJ Shadow departed Unkle following Psyence Fiction's release and distanced himself from the album.[15][16] Years later, James Lavelle opined that the album's hype ended up overshadowing its musical content, adding that he felt it was released at a time "when people wanted [him] to fail".[11] Shadow would later soften his stance on Psyence Fiction, remarking in a 2010 interview that he viewed the album fondly despite it being "somehow flawed".[17]

Kickstarter campaign[edit]

In June 2013, Unkle launched a Kickstarter campaign titled "URBAN ARCHAEOLOGY: 21 YEARS OF MO'WAX," part of which included a deluxe re-release compact disc of Psyence Fiction. The campaign raised over $51,000. As of late 2020, the Psyence Fiction album has not been released to the Kickstarter campaign contributors.


In the years following the release of Psyence Fiction, the album's reputation has steadily improved.[11][12] In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine found that Psyence Fiction, despite its musical flaws, "gains momentum on repeated listens" due to "Shadow's imagination and unpredictable highlights", which make for "a superstar project that doesn't play it safe and actually has its share of rich, rewarding music."[1] Writing in The Vinyl Factory, Elliot Wilder expressed similar sentiments and noted that the album had "gained cult status for its chaotic collages and maverick collaborations", adding that it "feels today like the kind of crazy, alt-star-strewn mash fest that it is".[12] Chris DeVille of Stereogum wrote that Psyence Fiction presaged "likeminded ecumenical collectives like Gorillaz and Handsome Boy Modeling School", and that "In terms of quality alone, it's worthy of remembering as one of the best albums of its era."[18] In 2015, Fact named it the 45th best trip hop album of all time.[19]

Track listing[edit]

1."Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)"5:01
2."UNKLE Main Title Theme"Davis3:24
5."Lonely Soul"8:56
6."Getting Ahead in the Lucrative Field of Artist Management" 0:56
7."Nursery Rhyme / Breather"4:45
8."Celestial Annihilation"
  • Davis
  • Malone
9."The Knock (Drums of Death Part 2)"3:58
10."Chaos"Atlantique Khanh4:42
11."Rabbit in Your Headlights"6:20
12."Outro (Mandatory)" 1:06
Total length:54:59
UK edition bonus track
13."Be There"
Total length:60:14
Japanese and Australian edition bonus tracks
13."Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)" (Instrumental)Davis4:00
14."The Knock (Drums of Death Part 2)" (Instrumental)Davis3:52
Total length:62:51
UK promotional slipsleeve and Japanese and Australian edition hidden pregap track
0."Intro (Optional)"2:19
Total length:57:18
Sample credits[20]
  • "Bloodstain" contains samples of "Alone", performed by BeBe K'Roche.
  • "Unreal" contains samples of "Birth", written by Jules Blattner and performed by The Jules Blattner Group, and "Pre-Dawn Retrospective Chant", written and performed by Steve Forman.
  • "Celestial Annihilation" is based on the composition "Concerto for Strings and Beats" by Wil Malone.
  • "Getting Ahead in the Lucrative Field of Artist Management" is an advert for the 1975 boardgame "Ball Buster",[21] from Mego Corporation, though the name of the company at the end of the track has been reversed.


Credits for Psyence Fiction adapted from album liner notes.[20]

Recording information[edit]

  • "Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)" and "Nursery Rhyme / Breather" were mixed and recorded at The Record Plant in Hollywood, California.
  • Vocals for "Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)" and "Rabbit in Your Headlights" were recorded at The Site in San Rafael, California.

All other mixing and recording took place in London, England.

  • "UNKLE Main Title Theme", "Lonely Soul", "Celestial Annihilation" and "The Knock (Drums of Death Part 2)" were mixed at Metropolis.
  • "Bloodstain" and "Chaos" were mixed at Rak Studios.
  • Vocals for "Bloodstain" were recorded at The Strongroom.
  • "Unreal" was mixed at Matrix.
  • Vocals for "Lonely Soul" were recorded at Milo.
  • Strings for "Lonely Soul" and "Celestial Annihilation" were recorded at CTS Studios.
  • "Rabbit in Your Headlights" was mixed at The Strongroom.


Chart (1998) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[23] 15
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[24] 22
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[25] 60
French Albums (SNEP)[26] 39
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[27] 77
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[28] 33
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[29] 18
Scottish Albums (OCC)[30] 7
UK Albums (OCC)[31] 4
UK Independent Albums (OCC)[32] 1
US Billboard 200[33] 107
US Heatseekers Albums (Billboard)[34] 1


  1. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Psyence Fiction – UNKLE". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  2. ^ a b Browne, David (12 October 1998). "Psyence Fiction". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 12 April 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b Sullivan, Caroline (28 August 1998). "UNKLE: Psyence Fiction (Mo' Wax)". The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b Mulvey, John (19 August 1998). "UNKLE – Psyence Fiction". NME. Archived from the original on 15 June 2000. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  5. ^ Schreiber, Ryan. "UNKLE: Psyence Fiction". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 16 November 2006. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  6. ^ Maconie, Stuart (September 1998). "Unkle: Psyence Fiction". Q. No. 144. p. 93.
  7. ^ a b Ali, Lorraine (17 September 1998). "U.N.K.L.E.: Psyence Fiction". Rolling Stone. No. 797. p. 128. Archived from the original on 13 November 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b Ryan, Chris (2004). "UNKLE". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 837–38. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  9. ^ a b Grundy, Gareth (September 1998). "The rebel alliance". Select. No. 99. pp. 80–81.
  10. ^ a b Walters, Barry (November 1998). "UNKLE: Psyence Fiction". Spin. Vol. 14 no. 11. pp. 117–18. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d e "The men from UNKLE". The Age. 3 October 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Wilder, Eliot (24 August 2018). "20 years of UNKLE's Psyence Fiction". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  13. ^ Klein, Joshua (29 March 2002). "UNKLE: Psyence Fiction". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (2000). "Unkle: Psyence Fiction". Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-24560-2. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  15. ^ Cooper, Sean. "UNKLE (Biography)". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  16. ^ Werde, Bill (June 2002). "The Shadow Knows". CMJ New Music Monthly. No. 102. pp. 32–39. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  17. ^ Doran, John (18 October 2010). "Megadef: DJ Shadow Interviewed". The Quietus. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  18. ^ DeVille, Chris (24 August 2018). "Psyence Fiction Turns 20". Stereogum. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  19. ^ Twells, John; Fintoni, Laurent (30 July 2015). "The 50 best trip-hop albums of all time". Fact. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  20. ^ a b Psyence Fiction (liner notes). Unkle. Mo' Wax. 1998. MW085CD.CS1 maint: others (link)
  21. ^ "Ball Buster advert".
  22. ^ McGee, Alan (9 April 2008). "Wherefore art thou Mark Hollis?". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  23. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction". Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  24. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  25. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  26. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction". Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  27. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  28. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction". Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  29. ^ " – Unkle – Psyence Fiction". Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  30. ^ "Official Scottish Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  31. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  32. ^ "Official Independent Albums Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  33. ^ "Unkle Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  34. ^ "Unkle Chart History (Heatseekers Albums)". Billboard. Retrieved 12 June 2016.

External links[edit]