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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

Posted on the 02 February 2013 by Audiocred @audiocred

The artwork for II, the succinctly titled second album from New Zealand/American trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra, gives a couple of clues as to what you will find inside. It is a provocative image, to be sure, but it’s also a relatively easy one by the standards of other indie artists. The even, murky red makes the photo very palatable, and dulls the image, and yet somehow makes it so much more memorable than the cover would be had it been a full color picture. This kind of tension, between complaisant, comfortable pop and notions of provocation and originality, embodies this fantastic album in a musical sense as well.

ii Unknown Mortal Orchestra   II

Psychedelic rockers Unknown Mortal orchestra adopt a softer, more soulful sound for II. Ruban Nielson’s voice is startled and stringy, and he eases playfully between an almost gurgly modal voice and an impressive, creamy falsetto. And Nielson’s voice is one with the accompanying guitar – he follows its every succulent riff through delicately expressionistic trills, each making various little modifications on what is routinely considered to be pop.

There is a very artificial and very confrontational lack of fidelity on II. This is a far, far cry from the low fi of a band like Times New Viking, but the instruments fill space in a very odd way on II. It is clear that Unknown Mortal Orchestra were trying to evoke the washed out feeling and temper/texture of late-60s psychedelic acts.

There was definitely a great deal of attention payed to the detail of the sound of this album – and rather than sounding “lush” or “full,” the tracks sound sharp and mildly distorted. It isn’t a negative thing, and in many instances it serves the songs quite well, especially on opener “From the Sun” and “So Good at Being in Trouble” though one definitely gets the feeling that on II if you aren’t listening with top notch headphones and a lot of bass you aren’t getting the full picture.

The guitar and bass on II worm in and out of each other without so much as touching, which is to say that they manage to be both utterly captivating and utterly distinct, while at the same time sounding perfectly cohesive. These songs have an incredible amount of style, and this is an album that seems to accomplish everything it set out to. I would recommend II, out February 5th on Jagjauwar to just about anybody; it’s incredibly accessible, fun and has enough going on to warrant multiple replays.

 Unknown Mortal Orchestra   II

4/5 bars

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