Album Review: UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA | MULTI-LOVE

There’s something deeper going on in Ruban Nielson’s life. Unknown Mortal Orchestra has been his basement project, his third child, since the beginning – following the demise of New Zealand punk outfit the Mink Chicks.

Nielson’s self-titled debut was an attempt to recapture his lost passion for music coated in lo-fi, bubbly psychics originally never to heard by the public. In 2013, he released II, an album of pensive, guitar-driven soul music that provided frequently troubling glimpses of his mental state – with an opening line of, “Isolation can put a gun in your hand.”

On this, his third studio album, Multi-Love, Nielson had a few things on his mind and few more things to prove to his family. It felt like he had to surpass anything he made in the past on this 40-minute lush experiment into emotion and funk. Multi-Love teems with lush synths and futurist textures, hallucinogenic funk and R&B – somewhat of a grand departure from UMO’s darkly sweet psychedelic cacophony. Nielson has always made UMO records by himself in his studio basement in Portland. Live though, he garners the talents of his friends to mesh the songs with prog-jam elements.

In a recent interview, Nielson revealed some of his most personal affairs during the making of this record. Another woman entered both his and his wife’s life, with her moving into their family home and three of them forming an intimate relationship. On the album’s title track, Nielson vents his conflicted frustration for his three-pronged-relationship, “It’s not that this song’s about her / All songs are about her / Sun shines underneath us / Fearing new kinds of mind control and just blaming each other.”

Stylistically, for the remainder of the album there’s a lot of funk and R&B elements at play. Can’t Keep Checking My Phone has this impossible shakable, jangly beat to it that comes direct from those $2 world music albums in the cheap vinyl bin. Perfect. Necessary Evil is a familiar throwback to Mac Davis’ Watching Scotty Grow including saxophone. Album finisher Puzzles is a perfect summarization of both the album’s and Nielson’s internal struggle. To finish an album with, “I don’t want to solve your puzzles anymore,” is but a rude awakening for Nielson’s family life. It’s unknown whether he and his wife have come to any conclusions, but the product we’re left with shows an extraordinary level of talent and emotional conduct.

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