From the beginning of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s newest album Multi-Love, sounds are used that have been used before, but with an undeniable twist of originality. These sounds continue on through the rest of the album, with the familiarity of funk grooves and instrumentation that belonged in the time when bell bottom jeans were a thing, but brings it to the present day with style.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a band originally from New Zealand, but has since split their locations between there and Portland, Oregon. According to The Corner, the band was started after a song called “Ffunny Ffriends” was posted on an anonymous Bandcamp profile, which is a popular independent music sharing service, where artists can upload their music and charge for it or give it for free. The song received great reviews from music magazines such as Pitchfork, but no one knew who posted the song, until Ruban Nielson, the band’s founder, guitarist and singer, claimed it as the Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s song.
Since then, the band has released two award winning LPs, “Unknown Mortal Orchestra” and “II.” Full but light melodies are laid down by the band led by the crooning of vocalist Nielson straight from the beginning of the first track “Multi-Love”. It kicks the album off with a euphoric intro, which is interrupted with a sobering drum that goes straight into the beat of the song. “Multi-Love” sets the pace for the following song “Like Acid Rain,” which is just as groovy, and is powered by a monster of a bass line.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra seems to pull influences from a bunch of different places, like the molten guitar work of Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, guitar driven soul groups like The Isley Brothers, the psychedelia of the Grateful Dead and vocal patterns of Stevie Wonder, but kinked out just enough to where it feels fresh.
The chord changes could break the layman’s fingers and keep the brain active, but is soothed as they barrel through dance fests, such as “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” which has a groovy intro with the guitar played short into verses and moving with Nielson’s voice in front of a hi hat and bassline combination worthy of James Brown himself.
The album’s only real sign of slowing down is at the midpoint, with the song “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty.” The song features swells of feel-good chords behind the solid backbeat of the band. Vocals are at a low growl, sounding like they are being pushed through thick paper, or a megaphone with low batteries.
The album picks back up again with “Necessary Evil,” a song about a love affair between friends that could be dangerous just by its very existence. It is brought in by another guitar driven groove that is kept interesting with every hook ending featuring a little riff from a horn section. The album ends with the song “Puzzles,” that crescendos to a vocal trade off and riff-filled hook, and decrescendos to a quiet hum of guitars until it fades away, which is is a fitting way to end this very active album.
What may not have been picked up through this album is that it is somewhat of a break-up album, inspired by Nielson’s polyamorous relationship going awry and ending after his lover’s Visa expires. This sets the scene for a lot of the songs on the album, including “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” where Nielson is hopeful, but seems to be driven a bit crazy by his lover’s departure. He sings the words, “We eat crickets in the future, just tastes like ‘Far-from-home.’ Drink Chicha in the jungle. That sounds great, kinda busy, Could you call back again? I’m sure you’ll come back ’til then I can’t keep checking my phone.”
Top Tracks: “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” “Multi Love” and “Necessary Evil”
Verdict: Unknown Mortal Orchestra seems to have the funk formula down. With Multi-Love, they take the sounds of their predecessors and add something that is their own. This album is a truly a festival of funk music, turned up to 11, but with a twist of longing for a lost love.
The band’s signature put on the classic funk vibe on “Multi Love” gives comfort in its familiarity, but still remains new and fresh through Nielson’s unique voice and the instrumentation. There are songs for every mood, but it still works as a cohesive piece.