By Kinsey Heath
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a band who is known for its heavy guitar driven melodies and despondent lyrics, has departed from the genre of psych-soul and enters a land of swirling synths and disco-infused funk. Ruban Nielson, a maven of his six-stringed instrument and wizard of low-fi production, demonstrates the necessary evolution of artistry with his fourth coming album Multi-Love.
The opening track "Multi Love" starts with a vintage fender Rhodes piano creating the melody for the track. Nielson’s voice comes from what sounds like a distant place in a room and fills the space in its entirety, introducing his voice as an entity, which, in a way, is a metaphor for the lyrics: “Multi-Love checked into my heart and trashed it like a hotel room // Who is your God? Where is she?” There is a short break in the music and then begins what sounds like a sampled vintage drum kit with broken claps during some of the breakdown supported by low synth undercurrents. The lyrics continue, “Multi-Love has got me on my knees // We were one, then become three // Mama what have you done to me? // I'm half crazy.” Nielson steadily declares his troubles maintaining a poly-amorous relationship with his wife and new romantic addition the family. He explores this new-found synergy between the three of them as a union and displays a certain emotional nudity in this track.
“Like Acid Rain” is a short two minutes and two second song that starts off with a upbeat and playful “La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, la- la-la-la-la yeah.” Immediately the bass line puts you in a funk-induced coma as the drums follow seamlessly with the bass. This song makes me want to put on my retired bell bottoms and walk gleefully through the the streets of my metropolis city. Maybe I'm checking out my passing reflection in a glass window while impressively moving my hips? Maybe I’m winking at strangers as they pass by? All I know is that I’m grooving. Just think Motown-inspired music video happening here.
The track I’m most enthusiastic about, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” is highly reminiscent of the BeeGees and Prince. The sparse opening of the trombone and Spanish guitar are unexpectedly contrasted by a lush, disco-driven feel. Nielson’s assuredly smooth vocals provide a perfect accompaniment to the insatiable rhythm and funk of the guitar that pulse through to the end of the track. The funkiness of the bassline illustrates how Nielson has impeccably transcended the field of psych-soul to the sphere of disco and funk.
The last song in this review, “Extreme Wealth and Cruelty”, taps into Nielson’s lower register and dizzyingly descends you into a place of complete isolation, but right before you hit the ground, Nielsen throws cold water on your face with seemingly sweet lyrics: “If we were strangers, then we would fall in love again.” The triumphant sound of the sweeping saxophone disorients you further as you become initiated in this disjointed swarm of lo-fi texture. There is no sense of center or gravity for you to cling to as his lyrics compound the message of the song. And in case you were wondering, yes, he can still rip on guitar.
Overall, Multi-Love is a monumental success for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Initially, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was listening to a creation by UMO until I heard Nielson’s ambrosial falsetto navigate me through their new poly-phonic sound. UMO’s past albums have played a significant role in my life to the point of comparing Neislon to a demigod. It was difficult for me to accept the musical direction of the album. But needless to say, and as contrived as it sounds, I was taught a lesson from the perspective of the “self-righteous fan”: a fan is unaccepting of the artists need for change; a fan who formulates an idea or belief that is based solely on adhering to the expectations of that fan. After this realization, I began to purely listen to the album without any pretenses. UMO not only slapped me in my face, but they exceeded my expectations musically by sinking their teeth into incorporating a new style to their music. They are introducing a new wave of sounds to listeners and gaining traction by being some of the most humble dudes in the game. Thank you UMO for your most accomplished album and also for kicking my ass into perspective.