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Unknown Mortal Orchestra Unknown Mortal Orchestra Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A compact and incredibly gratifying introduction to a new lo-fi talent.

Luke Slater 2011

Like many so-called bedroom music projects, the quality of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s compositions lies in the very fundamentals of songwriting. The story of this debut is centred within these basics, scattered amongst experimentation with densities, resulting in high-quality lo-fi pop.

The man behind it all, New Zealander Ruban Nielson, does not revel in the complex, and is almost definitely better off not entertaining any grand changes in what he does as UMO right now (a bassist and drummer join him for shows). Texturally the album is interesting, although a sharp ear will be required to spot everything that is going on amid the fuzziness. For opener FFunny FFrends, everything is built around a strong melody and moves in unison, bar an occasional guitar solo or flexible, slinky bassline.

From start to finish it feels very much like ‘variations on a theme’, with that theme being something like bouncy, summery, melodious but rough-around-the-edges pop songs. While variety may be a little lacking – not to the record's detriment, mind – what isn't missing is punch. A trebly guitar is a mainstay of each and every track, as is the raw and dirty percussive streak, reminiscent of so many sample-led works in this genre.

How Can U Luv Me is the album’s centrepiece and also its masterpiece, chock-full with bass grooves, soaring vocals and the feeling that this would be best experienced in a dingy, smoky backroom, with sweat dripping from the walls. It is nothing but a joyous showing. Though the sonic aesthetic is consistent, the speed at which it occurs does change (a couple of times). Nerve Damage! moves at an increased if not frantic pace, whilst Jello and Juggernauts nestles comfortably into the meandering tracks around it, finely riding a solitary main guitar lick.

The album’s end comes as a surprise, almost too suddenly as ever-decreasing song-lengths gradually ratchet up the giddiness and excitement in anticipation of what comes next: which, as it turns out, is silence come the abrupt climax of Boy Witch. On reflection, what you have is a compact and incredibly gratifying introduction to the world of Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

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