Unknown Mortal Orchestra has a very off-putting band name. Is this band a group of metal dudes who love orchestral music and old video games? One could surmise this or whatever else comes to the imagination. The truth is, though, that Unknown Mortal Orchestra isn’t any of the things listed above.
The band’s newest effort, Multi-Love, is a combination of all the best parts of R&B, like melodic bass lines, pulling some very obvious hints from funk music, specifically repetitious, dance-provoking rhythms. Multi-Love is a definite departure from previous albums, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and II. Both of these albums resembled much of the same in terms of what’s popular in indie right now: low-fi recordings, fuzzy guitars, and barely distinguishable vocals. Multi-Love has a clear vision; Unknown Mortal Orchestra had to have known what it was going for starting at the very initial writing process all the way to the studio.
“Acid Rain” could pass for something Prince wrote and performed in the late ‘70s. The distinct, staccato rhythm in this song is reminiscent of the funkier aspects of Prince’s catalog, like “Kiss,” but a little less melodic, or “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” but more erratic. This decision is intentional and guides “Acid Rain” down an irregular path, strange and cheesy (in a good way) keyboards and all. It’s a refreshing spin on a sound that can be poorly recycled in the age of DJs and sampling. Singer Ruban Nielson even borrows some of Prince’s singing techniques. Nielson’s voice definitely isn’t as high, but similarly soulful.
“Necessary Evil” is the chill-out, think-about-it song of Multi-Love. Nielson sings, “We’re in love/But I don’t get what you see in me/Loving me could be your fatal flaw/Just hanging in here trying to be your necessary evil,” a particularly sad and universally relatable feeling, but an aspect of love that isn’t touched on so often, at least not this tenderly and poignantly. “Necessary Evil” features a rhythm section, from bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare, that’s strong and proves itself as the backbone of the song. Geare keeps it simple but consistent and Portrait accents the song at just the right moments. No one is stepping over each other.
Nielson’s voice is finally able to come out and enjoy itself in Multi-Love. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s previous albums hid the fact that Nielson is actually a fantastic singer, mostly because of the muddled production quality. He has a specific tone to his voice; it’s warm but soft and breathy. It’s clear Nielson puts a lot of effort into writing lyrics, which is a hard thing to accomplish, especially for young musicians at the near-beginning of their career.
From start to finish, Multi-Love feels like a whole, calculated (but not formulaic) piece of art.
Every bit of this album fits together, and doesn’t feel random or piecey like Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s previous albums. Though Unknown Mortal Orchestra and II have substantial tracks (“How Can You Luv Me” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark),” respectively) they don’t have the same fluidity in their homes as Multi-Love makes for its songs. It took Unknown Mortal Orchestra a few years to find its distinctive sound: funk with a twist of tawdry ‘80s pop (meant in the best way possible).
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is beyond what any other indie band is doing right now. All the kinks that once held it back have now been smoothed out. Now, it’ll be easy to tell an Unknown Mortal Orchestra song from the rest.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love tracklist:
- “Like Acid Rain”
- “Ur Life One Night”
- “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
- “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”
- “The World Is Crowded”
- “Stage or Screen”
- “Necessary Evil”