Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
After the release of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's second album, II, the group's main sonic architect Ruban Nielson was asked to appear on various radio stations to play some songs from the record acoustically. Having just started playing non-electric guitar, he treated the opportunity as a learning experience, and also as a chance to step outside the swirling neo-psych sound the band was known for to try something more direct. After getting a good handle on how to make the acoustic sound work for him, Nielson set up a mike in his basement and recorded the Blue Record.
It's likely that close listeners of II, a home blend of blue funk and psychedelia, had already diagnosed Ruban Nielson's psychological ills. Eight months on, Unknown Mortal Orchestra return with Blue Record, a chilled acoustic EP that grooves down and quietly electrifies. Spotlighting the naked despondency of the lyrics, the set features two covers (Beck's "Puttin' it Down" and Dirty Projectors' "Swing Lo Magellan") and three of II's cleanest cuts.
The acoustic record: not the most exciting of prospects. Often used as an opportunity for the band to prove they can be all serious, a chance for 'the songs to speak for themselves', to show they can do something a bit different, even if that means just unplugging a guitar and turning it all down a notch. Unknown Mortal Orchestra have made their name with a string of albums stuffed full of hip-hop beats and boisterous guitar strums, which is why Blue Record, the group’s first venture into the world of the unplugged, is an interesting prospect.
The appeal of Unknown Mortal Orchestra—essentially the project of singer/songwriter Ruban Nielson—is largely his expertise as a chemist; on the LP II earlier this year he showed off his ability to use a range of sounds, styles, and influences as elements to cook up a very decent album. For the opening songs on this new EP, though, he takes three neat psychedelic pop tracks from II, plus one from Dirty Projectors ("Swing Lo Magellan") and Beck's superb "Puttin' It Down," and strips them back to just his voice and an acoustic guitar. .
Unknown Mortal Orchestra offers no new material on their Blue Record EP, but rather three reworkings of highlight tracks from their recent LP, II, and two covers of songs by rock artists that dabble in similarly psychedelic waters. All five recordings were done straight to tape in frontman Ruban Nielson’s basement using nothing more than one acoustic guitar, one microphone, and two voices. In the EP’s press release, Nielson explains that it was the work of Love’s Arthur Lee that convinced him the acoustic guitar (picking, specifically, as he strums no more than a few chords on this record) can produce provocative music, instead of always being “too twee for me, or something.