Release Date: May 26, 2015
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
While touring 2013’s ‘II’, Ruban Nielson nearly threw up in his favourite Japanese restaurant. “I was in Uchiko in Austin and I felt so sick I couldn’t stand up,” he told NME in January. The 34-year-old mentions that same sushi joint in the first verse of ‘Multi-Love’, the funky, drums-driven opener of his third album. “She wants to bury me in Austin under Uchiko”, he sings, over dancing piano and breakbeats.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Multi-Love is frontman and mastermind Ruban Nielson’s open invitation to a party. What’s more: it’s a party D’Angelo, Ariel Pink, Prince and Tame Impala would all be comfortable attending. Nielson has long been praised for his beats by hip-hop artists, but the surrounding guitar rock always kept his previous efforts grounded in the realm of psychedelic indie rock.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The glimpse into Ruban Nielson's studio that adorns the cover of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's third record, Multi-Love, speaks volumes about what is contained within the album. Analog consoles and tape reels standout among a variety of instruments and knick-knacks, but all of it is cast in darkness. On the back wall, also obscured slightly by the shadows, are Nielson's first two albums as the principle creative force behind UMO.
Ruban Nielson returns with another anachronistic beauty, this one hitting the eardrums like a dusty Numero Group find from a home studio in the '70s U.S. Rust Belt, fashioned meticulously, mad-scientist style, with an army of synthesizers patched together and deployed deep in the off-hours. Their mission? To help Nielson communicate a complex message of love in 2015 A.D., for the species, for the tribes, and for each of us navigating our tech-saturated days, noses in our phones.
The story behind the release of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ffunny Ffrends and subsequent eponymous debut album has been glorified into musical folklore, likely to their detriment. Ruban Nielson, plucked from the shadows of an anonymous Bandcamp account and an innocuous song upload, was suddenly thrusnt into the internet limelight within a matter of days. Before indie blogs like Gorilla Vs.
If Unknown Mortal Orchestra began life as a mysterious, elusive project keen to withhold identity and clarity, with Multi-Life it has burst into vivid, colourful life. The hazy psychedelic sheen has been replaced by an enlightening retro-futurist sound with less emphasis on intoxicating guitar lines and much more on synthesisers, vintage keyboards (or at least sounds that seem to emulate them), lithe bass lines and rhythm. Whilst these songs are unlikely to scale chart heights, this really is pop music – albeit of an intricate and ambitious kind.
Halfway through Ruban Nielson’s explorative third LP, Multi-Love, the bipolar “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty” fractures momentarily into reverberating shards, creaking like a bridge collapsing as a murky guitar yowls in the background. Coming so soon after a silky smooth, Steely Dan-referencing guitar solo courtesy of his equally musical father Chris Nielson, it’s a tonally shocking reminder at how close Nielson has come to the edge, not just of UMO’s musical possibilities, but of his own sanity as well — there was the drug-utilizing, self-administered psychotherapy that fueled his last album as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 2013’s II, then the delicately maintained five-person relationship that informed this one. Multi-Love was a multi-step process.
Oregon-based New Zealander Ruban Nielson is already known for being an offbeat operator, providing psychedelic takes on 70s soul and deeply fried 60s pop on two previous albums. For UMO’s third effort, the band pile on the vintage keyboards and disco rhythms while Nielson riffs on the idea of an overcrowded planet and three-way love. Not just for kicks: Nielson and his wife found themselves in a relationship with another woman (not for the first time do you wish the silent partners of musicians made records).
The sleeve for Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘Multi-Love’ is simple enough. It shows the bulk of Ruban Nielson’s studio, old tapes sharing space with framed cover art for UMO’s two previous LPs, staring down on progress. The set-up looks elaborate, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. That’s with the exception of a great, bulging pink orb shape that looks like it’s breaking through the ceiling.
is definitely shaping up to be the year of the groove in rock music, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra's most recent effort, Multi-Love, is helping head up the charge. The tone of the album is immediately set by the uber-catchy opening title track, with keyboard sounds ripped from 1970s rock, and lead singer Ruban Nielson climbing up and down his vocal register. "Ur Life One Night" has a driving groove that could easily be found on a Stevie record, with Nielson sounding very Wonder-esque.A real highlight on the album is "Can't Keep Checking My Phone," which sports a serious groove as well as some very cool, and very subtle, vocal effects.
There are plenty of albums about heartbreak, but not so many about polyamorous relationships in which a third party leaves both you and your wife confused and heartbroken. Ruban Nielson might have tangled his emotions beyond repair during the making of his band’s third album, but you can’t deny the subject matter is compelling. “Multi-love has got me on my knee / We were one, then become three,” he sings on the title track, adding: “It’s not that this song’s about her / All songs are about her.” The Auckland/Portland band’s multi-love is multi-coloured, too, taking soul music as its template but splashing the canvas with futurist synths and trippy vocal effects.
Seeing Unknown Mortal Orchestra live and hearing them on record are two remarkably different experiences. The Portland-via-New Zealand psych rock band dealt lo-fi pop on their first two albums, 2011’s self-titled and 2013’s II, but live, they tumble around in the dirt, extending themselves into the territory of The Grateful Dead and Phish where closing stanzas quadruple in length. Both versions of their sound have attracted a following, the former among critics and the latter among tie-dye-everything bros.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra's music is like a game of hide-and-seek, revealing one thing only to bury another. Blink and you’ll miss the guitar in the beginning of Multi-Love’s "The World Is Crowded" because a burst of synths comes in and saturate the track to a pure white hum. If you don’t catch the anxieties and heartbreaks of polyamorous love, it’s because Ruban Nielson has compressed and phased his voice down to a thin analog texture.
The third Unknown Mortal Orchestra was recorded during a tumultuous time in Ruban Neilson's life, when his ideas about love and marriage were blown apart, forever changed, and then carefully rebuilt. Fittingly, the music on Multi-Love is different too, changed from warped psychedelic weirdness into something a little more focused and song-oriented. Also, something less guitar-heavy and with a strong classic soul influence, almost like what Mark Ronson could have done if he overindulged in cough syrup one night.
The Sixties is ingrained in Western lore as the golden decade of the twentieth century. Popular depictions focus on a new self-determinant youth, freed from the shackles of parental conservatism and angry with an outdated status quo. No other decade before or since has garnered the same reputation for hedonism of all kinds. Legend would have us believe that drugs were as easy and cheap to procure of as a tin of baked beans, while, if one so desired, a willing partner well-versed in the Karma Sutra could be found within five minutes’ walk of basically anywhere.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra's music has often explored feelings of dizzying isolation, but on their third LP, New Zealand-born frontman Ruban Nielson embraces the power of three. Taking cues from the bubbly soul of Stevie Wonder and the melodrama of the Tijuana Brass, Nielson offers low-fi musings on a polyamorous relationship that ended when his lover was forced out by a woeful immigration policy. All the psychedelic cool in the world can't hide his ire: "America, open up your doors/Is it right to always fight against the other?" he pleads on "Puzzles." Just as in his personal life, Multi-Love sees Nielson coloring outside the lines for a vibrant vision of connection.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra are often grouped in with the same subset of classic indie rock-leaning bands that have become a fixture at music festivals across the country (think Tame Impala or Cage the Elephant), but it always seemed a bit unfair that they would be branded as a “retro” act. Over the course of two albums, principal songwriter Ruban Neilson revealed himself to be a studio wizard, creating textures and moods that reach well beyond the warm, monophonic tones of yesteryear. However, there is something decidedly smooth and relaxed about Unknown Mortal Orchestra, something that recalls summer days and romantic times, even with a layer of tension bubbling underneath the surface.
In a way, the concept of psychedelia has been tipped on its head. In its original 60’s meaning, the term stood for ideas that had seemingly been catapulted to the Earth from some distant, unknown future. Since then, it’s become shorthand for retro-minded music that seeks to trek the by-now familiar paths first trod by the heady experimenters of the past, with the same catalogue of musty vinyl endlessly recalibrated and recreated.
If you follow pop music, by now you know the story behind Multi Love. Ruban Nielson, the synth-mad mad-scientist/frontman of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, met a fan on tour. They connected and stayed connected—after months of correspondence, Nielson and his wife invited the fan to live with them and their two kids in Oregon. And so, for a year, they became a family of sorts.
Mbongwana Star FROM KINSHASA. Mbongwana Star, a band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, radically upends expectations of Congolese music; “mbongwana” means “change” in Lingala, a Congolese lingua franca. Its album “From Kinshasa” (World Circuit/Nonesuch) is a world away from the ….
Blowing up his profile among NPR programmers with mod falsetto soul on 2013's "So Good at Being in Trouble," New Zealander-turned-Oregonian Ruban Nielson doubles down on this vein to distraction. Top-loaded with mildly engaging songs drawn out past the point of intrigue, Multi-Love sorely misses the psychedelic fancy that informed its predecessors. "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" cloyingly aims for the cheap seats with a push-button bhangra and walking disco bass.