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Friday
Jul082011

UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA - S/T

One of my most favourite feelings in listening to music is that moment when, without any expectations, I press play and the connection is immediate. Like some unsolicited audio eHarmony date, I get it and it gets me: Ssssh, don't speak. Let's just dance, OK?

That's about all you need to know about me and these guys...and there's very little else that you can know about them, really. As the name suggests, much of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's bio is cryptic and slight. What we do know (if you take their bio at face value) is that it's the brainchild of a New Zealander named Ruban Nielson who transplanted himself to Portland, Oregon and made this home-recorded little gem. 

The album's sound matches this description—it has clearly been realized in a quick and dirty fashion, but it also features the kind of cohesion that tends to come from a single mind. Instant hits like "Ffunny Ffriends" and "Thought Ballune" have more in common than poor spelling. A little psych, a little pop, and a ton of reimagined funk, the songs are catchy, chunky and dripping with syrupy fuzz. And these dudes are tight. The drumming, courtesy of some teen whizkid, Julien Ehrich, is insidiously groovy and rich, while Nielson is one heck of a guitar player. 

Altogether, Nielson's creation kind of does for funky indie-pop what fellow Antipodeans Tame Impala already did for psych-rock with their exceptional Innerspeaker LP—the record may borrow shamelessly from other artists, but it does so with great panache, intuition, and joy. And, also like that band, UMO is cunning enough to be able to wriggle away from a clear definition just as you think you have them pegged.

A prime example of this is one of the shortest (and best) tracks on the record, "Nerve Damage!" After a sequence of tunes that all tow the party line of boxy breakbeats and foxy pop hooks, "Nerve Damage!" slams a heavily effected, giddily dexterous flurry of solo guitar headlong into a slice of druggy punk that sounds ripped from the lost demos of Sebadoh's original loon, Eric Gaffney. It as unexpected as it is exhilarating and it packs everything it can into its 2:15 running time. Most impressively, it manages to blend into the rest of record despite being a bit of ugly duckling.

You can ultimately chalk this up to the overall sound of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which is a great reminder of the benefits of a good lo-fi recording. The record is hazy, but purposefully done. Whether these guys had very little money or not, make no mistake: it is very intelligently constructed and clearly sounds they way they intended it to.

So, will Unknown Mortal Orchestra end up being a fun little fling or a more lasting relationship? It's still a little up in the air. But right now, I'm having too much fun reveling in that kind of excitement that can only come from the surprise of the new. Just when I least expected it, I think I'm in love.

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