Album Review: IC-01 Hanoi by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Fairly Good, Based on 4 Critics
Exclaim - 70 Based on rating 7/10
Ruban Nielson has never been one for repetition. Case in point: in parallel to Unknown Mortal Orchestra's kaleidoscopic discography, the musician has been releasing a lengthy electronic instrumental every year for Christmas for half-a-decade now. Titled sequentially from SB-01 to SB-05, those EPs sort of maintain the spirit of a UMO album, but with none of their obsession for details, layering slabs of chillwave synths and distorted guitars with all the enthusiasm of a scientist gone mad.
Similarly, the unexpected HC-01 Hanoi is ….
Over the past two Unknown Mortal Orchestra albums, Ruban Nielson has tackled thorny topics that fall well outside the scope of most indie-rock outfits: primal urges, modern alienation, consumerism, and most notoriously, polyamory. At times, these investigations produced some of UMO's most fetching music to date, though they also resulted in a discomfiting sense of nakedness. Nielson's emphasis on these themes in his songwriting, along with forays into genres like soul and R&B, at times overshadowed his formidable talent for conjuring psychedelic realms with his six-string and an array of effects.
Though recorded during the making of recent LP ‘Sex & Food’, ‘IC-01 Hanoi’ - a collection of seven instrumental pieces, penned in Vietnam alongside local musician Minh Nguyen - goes beyond the usual remit of a standard ‘offcuts and extras’ record. Using a selection of traditional Vietnamese instruments to help concoct a series of disparate, enveloping jams, instead it finds lynchpin Ruban Nielson painting with a different set of tools to those that usually inform his underwater, bubbling psych. The results exist on the peripheries of what we know to be UMO - ‘Hanoi 4’ is a driving, groove-led funk workout, while ‘Hanoi 5’ pits all kind of warped gurgles against a nocturnal jazz saxophone.
IC-01 Hanoi is quite different from anything else in the Unknown Mortal Orchestra catalog. While in Vietnam recording the 2018 album Sex & Food, group leader Ruban Nielson, his brother drummer Kody Nielson, and bassist Jacob Portrait took some time out from the sessions to lay down some electric jazz tracks. They were joined by Vietnamese musician Minh Nguyen and the Nielsons' dad, Chris, on flügelhorn, saxophone, and keys.