Ex-Mint Chicks guitarist Ruban Nielson’s offshoot project Unknown Mortal Orchestra is quickly generating a strong musical canon, and with it a large following, as they continue to make diverse and interesting sounding indie and psychedelic pop. The band’s first two albums Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Unknown Mortal Orchestra II were solid efforts, however, their latest release Multi-Love trumps both of these as they explore new sounds in the form of funk, jazz, and soul.
Multi-Love has quite an old-school authentic vibe to it both in terms of its sound and instrumentation. It has a very strong rhythmic feel in the drums and bass, while the added addition of horns and keyboards means this album has quite a poppy, almost Motown feel to it in places. This is a different path for the band, as previously their music held firm to that indie-pop/dreamy psychedelic line, which I might add they did very effectively. However, the new direction they have taken on this album is so damn catchy and sounds so, so good. This sound is a late-60s/early-70s sound to my ears but produced in a very contemporary fashion, I guess also highlighting Nielson’s skills as a producer more than anything and his strong ability to get the right sound for each song he composes.
The album kicks off with the title track “Multi-Love”. This is quite a poppy song and in the opening vocals has shades of early Queen, while that piano riff which drives the whole song is so effective, indicating straight off the bat the funkier direction this album will head down. This is followed by “Like Acid Rain” which takes a more lo-fi direction, and as a track is very similar to their previous work. Next are two of the catchier tunes on the album in the form of “Ur Life One Night” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”. These two tracks are perfect for the dance floor and I can see clubs going off to these with their dance-heavy beats, funk grooves, and pop melodies. At this midway point of the album, things change direction again with the alternative jazz of “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”. This is a great track which shuffles along nicely before suddenly out of nowhere the jazz horns come in and you are instantly hit by their infectiousness. This is UMO doing their take on 80s sophisti-pop, where saxophones reigned supreme, and although some might accuse Neilson of sax crimes here, I think the added presence of horns shows how Nielson is willing to try new sounds and experiment when the song demands it. This is followed by “The World is Crowded”, a track with a pounding funky bass line, and what I would call the weakest track on the album “Stage or Screen”. The album then winds down with the psychedelic funk of the fantastically good “Necessary Evil”, one of the best tracks on the album, and finally album closer “Puzzles”, another track which resembles more closely the sound of their past material.
Multi-Love is a fantastic record and I congratulate Nielson for again evolving UMO’s sound and experimenting on this album. There are some seriously good tunes here which might even attract the band some new followers, while I am pretty sure these new songs will be great when performed live. UMO seem to be getting better with each new release they put out and “Multi-Love” proves this yet again in what is one of the catchiest pop/funk/soul/jazz/psychedelia albums you will hear all year. Listen to it now, you will not be disappointed.