As you probably already know – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) are the new project of Ruban Nielson, now re-located to Portland, after the explosive demise of The Mint Chicks. UMO started as many projects do, with a single release on their Bandcamp – but unlike a million other acts – almost immediately the release was noted by the likes of Pitchfork et al. A seven inch EP was released amid the conjectures it was Ruban’s new band – at the time, still no confirmation of the rumours had been made – and the mail order of the 7″ came from the UK – adding, perhaps to the mystique.
But now, with the release of this full length self titled long player on Fat Possum overseas and on new NZ label Seeing Records locally here, Ruban has stepped from the shadows as the creative force behind UMO. Opening with the already, if you’ve been paying attention, Ffunny Ffrends – the first UMO release; setting a scene of sixties psychedelics – a childlike vocal melody over a gloriously fuzzy soundscape propelled by a relentless rhythm. Songs on here sound like hallucinations melded with nursery tales – a tried and true aesthetic from Lewis Carroll to Yellow Submarine – smiling alligators in the previously released Thought Ballune are sandwiched between the fuzz-disturbed Bicycle with it’s addictive progressions and the sway-easy guitar-melodics of Jello and Juggernauts.
Pop-ecstacy strikes with How Can You Luv Me. With it’s racing bass line, shambled drums and guitar strikes, it should be anything but a pop song – prima face it’s fuzzy and difficult but, like the earliest classics of pop it defies, and in so doing redefines the constructs of pop music. Nerve Damage! is a slice of noisy punk excitement that’s an immediate favorite for me. The international release closes with three-part epic-contentrate with the blue-guitar-esque opening which deconstructs itself into a quasi-dreamscape float before closing upon a rude awakening.
NZ purchasers are treated, though, with a bonus track – Rebuild the Theatres – with a processed vocal and layers of noise to bemuse and confuse as it finally comes to a disturbing close; tearing itself down or apart ready to reconstruct in your own mind in the required ten minutes of silence that I recommend after playing this record in order that you might fully absorb what just happened. – review by Andrew Tidball