Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love: A Soulful Psychedelic Lament

BY Mandi Goodier

1st Jan 2015 Music

Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love: A Soulful Psychedelic Lament

Unknown Mortal Orchestra release their third album, Multi-Love. It's a psychedelic-soul-funk lament but can they pull this strange concoction off?

Multi-Love Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
four stars

Psyche has been taking the indie scene by storm the last few years, sending bands such as Temples soring in to the UK charts. To be honest, it’s all gotten a little boring. But to class Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) as yet another psyche band is a huge mistake. Since their eponymously named first album in 2011, UMO's unique, sunny sound set them apart. But strip back the up-beat melodies and funky drumbeat and you are left with something quite perturbed.

Lyrically, themes of unhinged love have ran through UMO’s past two albums. I am not ashamed to admit, I have reached to both albums during times of loneliness to absorb that to that bitter lyric drenched in uplifting melody if for no other reason than to alliviate the isolation that lost love (unrequitted or otherwise) brings with it. From the opener—also titled 'Multi-Love'—it is clear that this theme is to continue throughout their third album.

Not in danger of sounding samey, by Multi-Love UMO's sound has developed into something more mature. Where as previous albums have been reminiscent of guitar bands of the 60’s Woodstock era, this album sees much more experimentation with electronic sounds, giving it a different kind of nostalgic feel; a sort of the future via the 70s kind of optimism. It’s both spacey and full, and very much in keeping with that unique wah-ing UMO sound (particularly apparent during ‘Ur Life One Night’). The first half of the album builds up to its funky peak, ‘Can’t Keep Checking the Phone’ where UMO become a more earthy version of Daft Punk, think !!! (Chk Chk Chk) or early The Rapture but with better lyrics. They’ve taken psyche to the realms of soul and funk, sending the band to the realms of the dance floor. 

Of ‘Can’t Keep Checking the Phone’, front man and songwriter Ruban Neilson says it’s “about missing somebody and that point where you refuse to accept online ‘connectivity’ as a substitute for being with someone [in real life]. When someone you love turns into text and ideas delivered through a device, at some point they’re competing with real things like the aurora borealis, which is another thing that only really makes sense in the flesh.” Neilson addresses universal issues as old as time in a very modern context and adds philosophical depth to his lament. It is the combination of foot tapping loneliness that makes the band special.

“A good lyric was something that didn't quite sit right. I don't want to be sad or nostalgic about these relationships. I want to be more celebratory.“ Says Neilson. In a way he is successful, as the band achieve something celebratory in the happiness that, at face value, the tunes provoke. But there is no hiding from the sadness of the tracks. It is something that UMO have in common with the Motown of the 60s, the lyrics are heart felt and unhinged but the music is just so happy.

The second half of the album is much more subdued. As we see the return and rise in popularity of tangible music in the form of vinyl, a lot of modern bands seem to put little thought into how this tangibility affects the overall listening experience of an album. Paying little attention to the break where you flip the record. Of course CDs and playlists are at fault ultimately where in the former continuity is paramount, and the latter shuffle reigns supreme. But with this return to an old format bands should be mindful of how they want their music to be heard. This album lends itself perfectly to the flip, and I would suggest that this might be the best way to enjoy Multi-Love. If you don't have the facilities then digital download will more than suffice.

Towards its end 'Stage or Screen’ and ‘Unnecessary Evil’ convey a familiar sounding UMO, before literally crashing (to the sound of broken glass) into the final song ‘Puzzles’ which is almost psychotic in its sound changes but very together thanks to a solid rhythm section. The song itself refers to racial conflict through the events of 2014's Ferguson riots. 

"I was listening a lot to Stand by Sly and the Family Stone, obsessing over the lyrics of this multi-racial band and all these different people coming together to make music" says Nielson. "I thought we were getting better. We've had these better ideas of ourselves for decades, but how much have things really changed?"

Its energetic delivery is the perfect finish to this funky but thoughtful album.

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