Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love (Album Review)

unknown mortal orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s rise has been one that’s had the band play from strength to strength as they’ve grown out of their more skeletal roots on their self-titled debut album and into their more colourful and melodic moments which they started to embrace on their sophomore album ‘II’.  Some of the best moments from their second album were when Unknown Mortal Orchestra embraced 60s psychedelic experimentation and blended them with pop sensibilities. Because of the way in which UMO have a tendency to experiment many people thought that ‘Multi-Love’ would have them embracing the long drawn-out compositions but in reality they’ve actually decided to do something much braver and embrace their ability in pop music.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s lead singer and songwriter Ruban Nielson has a knack for writing absolutely inescapable pop melodies. Any of the songs on this new album and many on their previous material has the ability to become a pop-hit. But Nielson decides that he wants to embrace his gift for writing these melodies by wrapping them up in a warm bubble of sound effects and other genres of music. Nielson not only embraces the sounds of his Beefheart-influenced psychedelia but embraces elements of funk and soul and packages them together with some baffling production values. And despite the face that these are pop songs they’ve also been wrapped up in a bubble of polygamy and challenging social norms. Nielson is constantly contemplating what it means to be in love with just one person, yet he does it with such style.

The opening title track to this album introduces us to the way in which Nielson’s vocals are recorded in a way that makes them sound incredibly thin in texture yet they’re so strange and welcoming. He softly croons over the top of some delicate keyboard playing before these extremely modern and harsh drums come pounding through in a way that sounds similar to a Hip-Hop track. Throughout this album UMO have a way of marrying all these elements of retro sounds and modern ones to create an odd blend. There are moments on this album that sound like Prince could have his fingerprints on it like on the track ‘Ur Life One Night’ which packs tight grooves together with a rubbery bassline. Everything is so tightly packed together on this album so that there isn’t a moment wasted like on the track ‘Like Acid Rain’ which has tiny synths playing in time with each frantic drumbeat.

Despite the fact that Nielson’s vocals are often buried underneath all of the extremely dense instrumentation on this album he’s one of the biggest selling points for the album and is the factor that makes the material so impressive. He bounces around and underneath the instrumentation becoming an instrument as much as he is the singer. The way in which his voice gently plods along on the track ‘Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty’ before letting the horns take his place on the chorus gives the record that space it needs. Whereas his energetic voice is what gives the song ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ so much punch with an irresistible melody underneath all of that fluffy instrumentation. His voice literally wills its way into your ears through anything when Neilson wants it to. The way in which he sings alongside the instrumentation on the track ‘Stage Or Screen’ is remarkable with the instrumentation drawing back and then swelling to make the chorus explode ferociously.

Perhaps the only slight let-down on this album are some of the moments where Nielson tones down his vocals somewhat like on the track ‘The World Is Crowded’ which is a perfectly decent, laid-back, blues influenced song that lacks some of the kick of the other tracks on here. But ‘Multi-Love’ is easiest the best set of songs from Unknown Mortal Orchestra thus far with them pushing themselves in their delivery and making their most accessible record to date. UMO could go anywhere from here pushing their boundaries further in either pop or experimentation.


Best Tracks: Multi-Love, Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Stage Or Screen, Ur Life One Night

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