Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

written by: August 18, 2011
Release Date: June 21, 2011


The name might lead you to believe you’re about to tread on a new and foreign soundscape—don’t be fooled. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s self-titled debut rides down musical streets paved by their pioneers. Their music creates an intersection where the garage rock ethics of bands such as the Arctic Monkeys meets the lo-fi, chill of Neon Indian and syrupy psychedelia of Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd.

Right from the start of the album the simple, hip-hop influenced drum work of Julien Ehrich comes alive on “FFunny FFriends.” It causes a few seconds of uncontrollable head-bobbing which is soon kicked into a full-blown groove by a swinging guitar that drops in just at the right moment. The next few songs on the album fall within this same format. “Bicycle,” “Thought Ballune” and  “Jello and Juggernauts” all have steady drum beats as their backbones from which the sounds of Ruban Nielson’s bouncing, ’60s-inspired guitar and Jake Portrait’s rumbling bass grow to flesh out the rest of the song. This is not to say that the songs of this album all sound the same. This album is very good at portraying all the variety that can be found in simplicity.

This album like many other band’s first major releases isn’t perfect. While it never gets in the way of enjoying any of the tracks, lyrics such as “How can you love me, when you don’t love me, baby?” often feel overly simplistic. Also, a strange, almost creepy falsetto in “Little Blu House” and nearly unintelligible vocal distortions throughout “Strangers are Strange” make it seem like the group isn’t totally comfortable with the sounds of their singing.

It will be interesting to see in the future where they go and how they grow in this regard. Thankfully, a lack of deep lyrical content or flawless vocals don’t keep a song from being danceable.

While “Ffunny Ffrends” and “How Can You Luv Me” were the first two singles and have garnered the most attention for the band, their solid pop sensibilities are far from the most intriguing sounds contained within the analog-drenched world of this album. That falls to two tracks on its backend. “Nerve Damage!” is a strange beast of a song that starts out with a rambling guitar and a distorted hum until those both drop out for a sound only describable as surf thrash before the song brings us back to the guitar and hum we started with. The last track, “Boy Witch,” feels as if it could be some forgotten post-punk flavored song The Beatles left off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is both a promising debut from a new band and an album that sounds like it’s craving a lazy day on the beach or a hot summer night. It will be interesting to see what avenues of sound that future offerings from the band might chose to cruise down.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra Unknown Mortal Orchestra Tracklist:

  1. “FFunny Friends”
  2. “Bicycle”
  3. “Thought Ballune”
  4. “Jello and Juggernauts”
  5. “How Can You Luv Me”
  6. “Nerve Damage!”
  7. “Little Blu House”
  8. “Strangers Are Strange”
  9. “Boy Witch”
  10. “I Want to Be Left to My Own Devices”
  11. “Cyrus’ Theme”