Photograph by Neil Krug

Photograph by Neil Krug

In the spring of 2010, a song called “Ffunny Ffrends” was uploaded to a Bandcamp page. Little was known about the track until a backlash fueled by angry bloggers and viral reposts forced Ruban Nielson and company to claim it as their own. A year later, Unknown Mortal Orchestra had signed to Fat Possum Records and were jamming in the studio. It’s a success story we’ve heard before, but the band couldn’t have been more nonchalant about it. They’ve learned to accept whatever progress has been made and focus their efforts on what matters: the music. UMO prefer the easygoing life, the ability to lie in an open field, limbs spread apart, and bask in the sun’s rays. If only life could be like that all the time.

Much like the band’s rise to fame, II is a carefree affair, a loose collection of ideas you may happen to stumble upon as you rummage through dusty stacks of forgotten basement cassettes. Its lo-fi, sepia-toned recording emits an old-school charm and pays homage to The Beach Boys, Southern California sunsets, and Polaroid pictures. The songs are grainy yet vibrant, boasting colourful, steady drumming and whimsical guitar playing. II, for these reasons, is relaxed without succumbing to laziness, and demands your attention without conceding to brute force.

UMO aren’t afraid to get a little flashy with their influences either. Opener “From the Sun” could be a Sgt. Pepper’s B-side, and “One At a Time” is the result of listening to one too many Funkadelic records. “Dawn” is a short, pulsating instrumental which could be easily mistaken for a Boards of Canada song. And “No Need for a Leader” is a must for any road trip soundtrack with its driving backbeat and fuzzy guitar riff. Unfortunately, the band can get a little repetitive, as they do on “Monki”, a 7-minute tune with what is essentially the same exact chorus on loop (thank Elvis the song has a bridge). And “So Good At Being in Trouble”, while delightful with its crooning vocals and shimmering guitar lick, ends up feeling empty and hollow, as if a piece of the puzzle is missing.

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— , March 2, 2013    Comments Off on Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II

ASAP Rocky

A booming crash of thunder rumbles then fades. A mysterious, foggy landscape is painted. The beat kicks in accompanied by a haunting synth melody and a violin section straight out of Psycho. As A$AP Rocky’s larger than life vocals soar on the hook, Long.Live.A$AP is off to an amazing start. Unfortunately, Rocky fails to maintain this level of greatness throughout the entire album, but his enigmatic charisma and drugged out soundscapes keep me coming back for more.

For the most part, Long.Live.A$AP’s production is on point. Lead single ‘Goldie’ is a banger, boasting an atmospheric synth lead that hangs lazily in the back, clearing out some much needed room for A$AP Rocky’s laidback flow and pitch-shifted chorus. Producer Clams Casino returns with a pocketful of ambience and works his magic on ‘LVL’ and ‘Hell’. Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse also lends a hand on the introspective ‘Phoenix’, while Rocky himself crafts a charming piece of vintage street soul on ‘Suddenly’. But Long.Live.A$AP is no 50-minute stroll in the park. ‘Fashion Killa’ is vapid; I literally skip over it every time it comes on. The dubstep-influenced ‘Wild for the Night’, featuring Skrillex on production, sticks out on this record like a sore thumb. I can appreciate creativity and experimentation, but it has to be well-executed, and this song sounds like it was thrown together at the last second.

Speaking of guest features, Kendrick Lamar sounds so out of place on ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ it’s cringeworthy. This is not the alluring, thoughtful mastermind behind good kid, m.A.A.d. city I’ve come to know and love. I mean, 2 Chainz sounds better than him! As well, Santigold attempts to round out ‘Hell’ (but to no avail) with a flat, uninspired chorus, and OverDoz is satisfactory at best on ‘Pain’.

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— , January 21, 2013    Comments Off on A$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$AP