Unknown Mortal Orchestra / two 12 inch
Out of Stock
The anonymity trick may have helped Unknown Mortal Orchestra gain notoriety at the outset, but it soon became the least interesting thing about them. Their self-titled debut was a wonderful record that lived up to the promise of early singles "Ffunny Ffriends" and "How Can U Luv Me". And the more we got to know Ruban Nielson, the more compelling he became; an outspoken, opinionated frontman, and, even rarer in the indie rock realm, a truly badass guitar player as well. The overall picture ended up leaving more to the imagination than secrecy: How would UMO sound with a bigger production budget? Would Nielson devote more attention to his guitar heroism than his songwriting? While there's no need for those two qualities to be in conflict, II eschews the greatness within its grasp whenever it pits them against one another. The result is a record that's equally remarkable and frustrating, split between incredible pop songs and turgid guitar noodling with very little middle ground.
Let's start with the good stuff, since that's what II does. Within the first four songs, Nielson reiterates what helped Unknown Mortal Orchestra transcend simple time-stamped pastiche: his handsomely scuffed vocals and inventive melodies, and a rhythmic vocabulary that draws equally and naturally from psych rock, hard funk, and soul. It's the work of an assured craftsman with a preferred set of sonic parameters, and shows off the band's development in a lucid, loose fashion. UMO's lo-fi sizzle and compression gave it the feel of an artifact, a lost treasure transmitted through decades of overdubbed tapes. II isn't a big budget affair, and Nielson still handles everything except the drums. The result is a surprisingly minor but welcome upgrade in fidelity that makes II sound more lived-in than pre-damaged, like a worn pair of jeans or an unmade bed.