Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Self Titled

Claire Morgan offers her review of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s first full-length album, out now on Fat Possum Records

Luke Goddard

out of 10

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
June 20, 2011
Fat Possum

It has always been my understanding that artistic people feel inclined to produce because they have something boding deeply inside of them—something that they wish to be heard. However, as of late, indie artists seem to be muffling their own voices—literally. Take Dirty Beaches for example. “Sweet 17” may have that cool, bopping, late 60’s, your-uncle’s-basement-band-before-he-became-a-stock-broker sound—but seriously, what the hell is Alex Hungtai saying? Which brings me to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a Portland based psychedelic group who has opened for the likes of White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV on the Radio. UMO has opted for this newfangled, lo-fi sound—but with a highly hallucinogenic quality.

The opening track, “Ffunny friends”, sounds like dreamy musical trip through crowded city streets, with twangy guitar and melodic moans from lead singer Ruban Nielson steering the way. He then makes a pit stop in a shady discotheque in time for the next track, “Bicycle”, a dark dance number, with fast-shaking tambourines and haunting echoes..

My personal favorite track, “Thought Ballune” sounds like Dr.Dog got trapped in a psychedelic black hole—complete with eerie mellotron sound effects. It’s truly a treat.
To throw some angst into the mix, “Nerve Damage” serves up punk-tinged lyrics with a gritty, vintage-y, garage band sound and shout-out-loud lyrics. “Ya got NERVE DAMAGE! Yeah!”
Truly exposing their genius, “Boy Witch” is a symphonic passage through a dissembled and peculiar carnival, blended seamlessly with ghostly lullaby chords, a frisky xylophone, and explosive guitar reverbs.

Despite its brilliance, the album does carry some deadweight—listless transitional tracks that sound like the background music for those nightly schedule commercials on Adult Swim. Jello and Juggernauts, How Can U Luv Me, Strangers are Strange, and Little Blue House fall quietly into this category—though they all do bring at least one unique element to the table (for example, Strangers are Strange exhibits some wickedly groovy bass chords and breezy echoes).
Unknown Mortal Combat’s self-titled album may leave something to be desired—perhaps kaleidoscopic visuals to make sense of its sporadic psychedelic feel—but it definitely exhibits some sort of headway (and perhaps a 40ish year transgression) in the world of underground rock.

[They are going to be at the 40 Watt in Athens on September 9th with Toro Y Moi]