American New Zealand fusion trio and lo-fi production experts Unknown Mortal Orchestra have well and truly established themselves as a band at the forefront of new age psych-rock and are not ready to live that reputation down.
They say your first album names you, your second album critiques you, and your third album defines you. If this is the case, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have already unveiled their initial namesake anonymity, with their eponymous 2011 debut Unknown Mortal Orchestra, as well as backing themselves with a plethora of critical acclaim on their follow-up record; 2013’s New Zealand Music Awards “Best Alternative Album” winning II.
Spanning three years since the latter, UMO’s latest release Multi-Love, has certainly delineated the band’s place on the psych rock/psych pop scene as a principal act of our time. With its innovative production, and seamless shifts to and fro heavy doses of disco, funk, garage, and pure psychedelia, Multi-Love is an emotionally dense and complex album. Examining the solidarity of love within polyamorous relationships, the thematics of the record are a step in the opposite direction from past emotional explorations of loneliness and introversion. Multi-Love though, still holds UMO’s distinct psych-pop foundations true to form, which only enhances the exploration of exciting new avenues, and let’s just say, the third time’s a charm!
The album’s success is in great part due to the production of the record, acting not merely as a scaffolding tool for manufacture, but as an additional layer to the album’s highly texturised sound. With a meticulous vision for a well-rounded, fully realised sound, front-man and UMO driving force Ruban Nielson, has this time around taken upon himself to be the master of Multi-Love’s entire production, mixing, and engineering; even passed on an offer from legendary producer and up-town-funkster Mark Ronson to lend a helping hand.
Within the recording phase too Nielson, being ever the inventive handyman that he is, managed to churn out some incredible restorations on some beaten-up retro synthesisers to contribute to those raw, wiry and twanging synth hooks that feature throughout many of Multi-Love’s tracks. The DIY piecing together of this album from pre-recording to post-production, risky as it may be, has left no room for Nielson’s perfectionist nature to be challenged, and in true Unknown Mortal Orchestra style, the move is utterly bold, and it most certainly works.
The album’s opening number and title track ‘Multi-Love’ is an instantly catchy, four-minute, funky, psych trip that sets the album up, to get to the heart-splitting center of Nielson’s love life. Nielson’s signature vocal range rises and falls through deep reverberating lows to soaring high falsettos, as he narrates the topical, yet seldom-discussed, subject matter beautifully. As Nielson sings about trashed hotel rooms in the dreamy beginning sequence of the song, the lyrics are buoyed along with a sudden percussion that breaks even the listener out of his reverie. The track acts as a catalyst for the remainder of the album as it delves deep into an unparalleled exploration of polyamorous love.
Without prior understanding that Multi-Love is all about polyamory, the album’s lyrical themes can easily be susceptible to many interpretations, meanings, values, and ideas, which is certainly not a bad thing. Polyamory is not for everyone, and issues surrounding matrimony and fidelity will surely be roused after discovering the true meaning of this album’s definition of multiple loves. Undoubtedly though, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s typical laid-back psych sound reins supreme throughout, and if the topsy-turvy emotional confusion of Multi-Love isn’t doing it for you, you can guarantee the funky beats will.