Monday, February 11, 2013

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II

Ai ai ai.  Where to begin?  First of all, the basics: this is a neo psychedelic album, a genre I've come to recognize almost instantaneously despite my lack of experience.  And this record, more than most, led me to question exactly why I find it so easy to recognize, especially since this one doesn't share the common thread I've found amongst all the others: an overwhelming Beatles influence (not that it has NO Beatles influence, but I didn't want to jump up and down and scream "Sgt. Pepper's!" at any point during my listens).  The Wikipedia article on neo-psychedelia wasn't terribly enlightening ("Neo-psychedelia is music that emulates or is heavily influenced by the psychedelic music of the 1960s"), but the psychedelic rock piece shed a bit more light.  So, in no particular order, traits of psychedelic rock (and therefore neo) include fuzzed-up electric guitars, cray-cray fantasy and drug inspired lyrics, mixed-up song structure, exotic instruments, studio effects, and a lot of keyboard.  But we'll get back to this; let's talk about the band first.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is mostly just one guy, Kiwi turned Portlandian Ruban Nielson, although Jake Portrait plays bass and Riley Geare drums.  Furthermore, the band evolved when Nielson posted a song online, gained alot of buzz, and had to put together a group in 2010 (thanks, Wikipedia!).  Aside from that, this is their second album, and Nielson calls it "a little less repetitive" than the first in this interview on The Days Of Lore.  Uh... and that's about it, 'cause I couldn't find anything else terribly interesting.  Sorry.

While I wasn't able to find any good dirt on this group, however, I was able to jot down a few notes about the songs.  First track "From the Sun" sets the stage with sweetly-plucked guitar before fuzzy lyrics, a wandering drum beat, and a happenstance song structure give the listener a strong shot of the neo-psychedelia vibe ("Isolation can put a gun in your hand/It can put a gun in your hand/It can put a gun in your hand"), and "No Need for A Leader" begins with a shimmeringly-distorted guitar intro and a far-away drum beat before both the guitars and the distortion get bolder, recalling a sleep-walker's version of a Cream song ("Maybe one day we'll find we have/No need for a leader").  Finally, the drum sets the pace on "Faded in the Morning", along with some acid guitars and one of the bumpin'-est bass riffs on the album, all of which combine into a trippy, ambling beat ("Faded in the morning time/Sun is rising stains my eyes and/Don't wanna die/Today").  And the rest of the tracks, in general, follow suit, with an echo-y delivery that makes it sound like the album is coming from the next room, and a vibe that veers more towards Cream than anything else I know.

So why did I insist on talking about psychedelic rock in the first part of my post?  Mostly because I can't describe what's interesting about this album WITHOUT it.  And that is entirely because this record manages to sound innately neo psychedelic while employing very few of the tricks - yes, there are wandering song structures, but not SO wander-y that you wonder if the guys know how to make music, and there are crazy lyrics, but not SO crazy you think the guy is high or reciting coffee shop poetry.  Basically, this album has the feel of the psychedelic without getting totally lost inside of it, or relying on hackneyed tricks to get attention.  So while I don't necessarily think a person would like it if they had no appreciation for the genre - it is a little nuts, after all - it still demonstrates a sense of original musicality, and an attention to sonic balance.  I'm still not sold on the genre, but if anyone's going to convince me, it might be these guys.  Or guys like them.  Or other guys I haven't heard yet.  But you know what I'm saying.

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