words fae ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)
On their newest release, Unknown Mortal Orchestra hone in on the best aspects from each of their previous projects and produce some of their best work yet. The album swings from 80s pop to the psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s so effortlessly and constantly applies a modern spin to each song, whether it be from the lyrics or production. On ‘Sex and Food’ an excellent mix between a vintage sound and modern ideas if found, as UMO refine their sound and deliver a cleaner than usual selection tracks that may be some of their best yet.
One of the songs that stands out from the project, and could very well be the best song released by the band so far is ‘American Guilt’. The track is one of the heaviest sounding in all of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s discography, featuring that simple yet powerful riff and Ruban Nielson’s distorted vocals, which have become a UMO staple after the previous three releases. The song sound like a track from earlier in the band’s career on steroids, as both the delivery and production have been refined and perfected from earlier projects, as well as taking inspiration from the likes of psych rock icon, Jimi Hendrix. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘Honeybee’ sees Neilson calm things down and draw inspiration from artists such as Prince to deliver a beautiful song about his daughter. This track is one of the most innocent and joyous tracks from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, offering some emotional diversity to the album, as well as musical diversity with funk and soul inspired instrumentals carrying the track.
On this record UMO mastermind, Ruban Nielson speaks out on anything from world issues such as the general political distrust and uncertainty felt nowadays to some of his more personal matters such as family and his love life. It is, however, the way that he speaks about these problems and concerns that we as a society can face that makes the songwriting on this project special. Nielson puts a personal touch in his lyrics, even when speaking on a more general issue, like on ‘Ministry of Alienation’. This, combined with the way that he handles the issues, trying to see the good and bad in everything provides a fresh outlook on songwriting. This also saves the album from feeling preachy and crazily pessimistic which could be a criticism of other songwriters when talking about similar issues. Despite this, Nielson also keeps quite a hopeful feel to the album and doesn’t come off as portraying the stereotype of another millennial complaining about everything for no reason.
One criticism of the album could be that is a little bit top heavy, as there are less memorable moments towards the end of Sex and Food, but that is not to say that the tracks are worse. If anything, the latter part of the album is just more subtle and really plays into that funk and soul aspect of UMO more so than the more heavy side that is seen on tracks like American Guilt. Despite the fact that many of the best moments on the album happen within the first couple of tracks, or mid-way through, the ending still feels cohesive and offers a more introspective sound, which wraps up the record very nicely. Featuring some bittersweet lyrics of Ruban Nielson’s stories of relationships the ending tracks act as a sombre yet optimistic final touch to a great record.
The brilliant songwriting and interesting production of Unknown Mortal Orchestra are sounding as good as ever with this latest project. Sex and Food sees new inspirations emerge and blend with the signature sound of UMO to continue the great track record that the band have formed since 2011. The album also finds more of a cohesive and clean sound than some of the distortion-heavy releases prior to this, which works well with the grooving baselines and beautiful melodies that can be heard throughout the project. Overall, it seems that Unknown Mortal Orchestra have matched, if not exceeded, the quality of Multi-Love, and continue to add to their already intricate and unique sound with a great album that continues to impress.