Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal OrchestraBy Jonathan Langer • Jul 18th, 2011 • Category: Album Reviews
What’s the deal with the name? I get its meaning, music made up of anonymous humans, but it sounds so…out of place. Like it’s a bollywood soundtrack or an afterschool band of basement emo kids trying to sound momentous. The name alone makes me want to share the music less and avoid the elongated string of syllables that would have to take place in order to exchange it with someone else. Which is a real shame, because the music is pretty good. At least, it would have been in the late 60’s. So much of it feels analog and rusty from decades of dust and neglect, and yet this is baby music. It reminds me of this year’s Tame Impala, a rich, classical sound that’s been auto-tuned (so to speak) for today’s mp3 players.
The album starts rugged and catchy with looped percussion somewhere between Beck and Bibio and a crunchy guitar line. The guitar is the star throughout the album and shows off immediately on “Ffunny Ffriends” with leadership and an eventual solo worthy of a Television album. “Bicycle” follows suit; brash guitar open, thumping drums and catchy melody. By the time “Thought Ballune” begins, it’s clear there’s some impressive instrumental bravado here, including the Pete Townshend-like guitar riff structured like a chunk of a Bach fugue. This is retro, but no rip-off, fashioned like classic rock yet with originality. “Jello and Juggernauts” nods at Mozart and Yes, including guitar trilling in the hook; “Nerve Damage” warbles before it rocks out; there’s even a hint of funk-rock on “Strangers Are Strange”.
And so the lo-fi throwback continues. In the tradition of last year’s Ariel Pink and Tame Impala records, so goes the Oregon-via-New Zealand sounds of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. And there’s nothing really wrong about that, the record’s spry and enjoyable, but whether it lasts or not is the question. So many artists and producers have become very good at recapturing sounds of a previous generation that they’ve overlooked perfecting their own sound. Which, to me, is what will ultimately keep UMO from becoming something really memorable. It’s good music, but it’s not really our music. It’s music crafted from the outside in and not vice versa. Enjoy it for what it is, and while it lasts, anyway.