Release Date: Jun 21, 2011
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop, Funky Breaks
Presenting the umpteenth example of how the Internet has dramatically altered how we consume music. In 2010 Ruban Nielson, late of the recently disbanded noise-pop group the Mint Chicks, posted a fuzzy psyche-pop tune called “Ffunny Friends” to a Bandcamp page. Within days Nielson’s project, which he had named Unknown Mortal Orchestra, was being praised by high-profile music blogs as the next big mysterious thing.
Perhaps we'd all be better off if it was always "all about the music, man." But until recently, most discussion of Unknown Mortal Orchestra understandably went from lauding the unshakeable hooks of "Ffunny Ffriends" and "How Can You Luv Me?" to wondering why, true to their name, they remained anonymous. Protracted mystery can cause as much skepticism as the most overt press blitz, and information had been scarce since they popped up last year with a Bandcamp page of intriguing and untraceable songs. Some time after, those songs started being performed live by human beings who do mundane things like wear Baja drug rugs, live in Portland, and maintain an active Twitter feed.
The Unknown Mortal Orchestra was formed by Ruban Nielson after the breakup of his band the Mint Chicks, and on their self-titled debut album, he’s more or less cast aside the noisy and aggressive sound for something much more fun. Basing the songs on funky, strutting beats is a good start. Throwing fuzzy guitars, chunky basslines, and bubbling keyboards on top is a nice second step.
Most people sleep in their bedrooms. Some, like [b]Ruban Nielson[/b], create genius albums in them. The Portland-based Kiwi’s confessed ‘hobby’ is almost unwillingly accomplished, a scruffy blend of shuffling funk and psych nostalgia that feels a lot more right than it should. Even the Dictaphone-style production works, giving this debut a Haunted Graffiti-esque mugginess, clipping the claws of the guitar hooks.
Every so often, artists seemingly come out of nowhere without the slightest trace of back-story. Behind the cryptic profile of a user made Bandcamp page, the shadowy identity of Unknown Mortal Orchestra unlocked a time capsule dated 1968 with the soul infused How Can U Luv Me, a psychedelic jive too competent to have been made in our day and age. With its rhythmic interplay and kaleidoscopic arrangements, it made more sense to assume that it could’ve been a long lost outtake borne out of the glorious days of beat-driven soul.
There's a thin line, sometimes, between preciosity and nuance. For music audiences that have already grown weary of the delicate self-importance of retro-auteurs like Ariel Pink, appreciating the throwback rock stylings of New Zealand's Unknown Mortal Orchestra may represent an impossible task. Or at least one not worth the bother during summer months that could be more profitably spent on sunny beaches drinking along to proven radio classics.
And the mystery continues to slowly unveil itself: retro fuzz rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra captured the attention of the blogosphere (including us) with a four-song EP back in late 2010. Now, the group, led by Ruban Nielson, ready the release of their self-titled debut; and as they proved with the EP, all that really matters is the music. The most impressive and endearing aspect of this album is the overall feel and ambiance it’s created.
Like many indie bands today—like many bands in general—Unknown Mortal Orchestra make merit of obscurity. New Zealand native Ruban Nielson started the band, according to its website, “to hatch a new musical dimension where his vision of junkshop record collector pop could be realized in a sound that recalled Captain Beefheart, Sly Stone, and RZA jamming on some kids TV theme too dark to ever be broadcast. ” In the unlikely event of such a cross-genre, cross-decade jam session, I would imagine that even the most eclectic of connoisseurs would struggle to untangle the various threads of influence and impact; fortunately, no such analysis will be necessary.
A compact and incredibly gratifying introduction to a new lo-fi talent. Luke Slater 2011 Like many so-called bedroom music projects, the quality of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s compositions lies in the very fundamentals of songwriting. The story of this debut is centred within these basics, scattered amongst experimentation with densities, resulting in high-quality lo-fi pop.