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.

Ferris Bueller knew how to live when he said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” II sees the band taking it slow, gathering their thoughts, and revisiting their psychedelic take on guitar-laden indie pop, albeit with a boosted confidence and a will to experiment. It may sound like an engrossing matter, but this is UMO’s break. This is UMO’s day off.


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