Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "II"
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a Portland-based band from New Zealand released their second self titled album, looking to expand on their critically acclaimed debut album.
Brainchild Ruban Nielson hasn't failed either, delivering the spacious and filling yet lo-fi sound UMO produced in 2011. The opening track "From the Sun", starts with a slow guitar-filled piece, the following lyrics 'Isolation; it can put a gun in your hand', linger long after you've pressed stop. This track changes up in beat pretty quickly offering a psychedelic bridge to help you relax to absorb the remainder of the album.
The second track and first single off the album "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)", where UMO have employed some of their well explored riff-driven songs, and immediately moves into territories of soulfulness on the track 'So Good at Being in Trouble'; the loss of the charm and riff-driven ambience from the first album becomes evident.
Just when you think the sound is going to change, another funky comes shrieking in with 'One at a time', quickly followed by the groovy minimalistic 'The Opposite of Afternoon'.
Losing the falsetto for the next track 'No Need for a Leader', and the almost-punk sounding guitar combined with surfer drums, leads this song to sound a bit lost seeming like almost a different band and almost on a different aural level to the rest of the album. However, the beauty of UMO is that their lo-fi sounds enable this track to seemingly fit, where the overall sound doesn't seem to be affected by a change in song-style.
The mature introspective sounds return on 'Monki' before Ruban takes a break for the smooth instrumental piece 'Dawn'. A 60's sounding song, almost like Jefferson Airplane on LSD (oh, wait!), appears in the form of 'Faded in the Morning'. This attempt at a faster pace again doesn't quite hit the mark, and I find a loss of interest after a couple of minutes of this 4 minute track.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra did save one of their better thematic tracks for last, with 'Secret Xtians', "Secret Christians are all the same...", the accompanying music does feel like something they've definitely done before and a tad formulaic.
Subtle changes like this make the album a matter of preference for listeners, where II may appeal to new audiences; fans of the sound of the first album may feel a bit lacking.
To most listeners, the sound will seem immediately engaging, but part the way through the lack of finding catching points outside of their lo-fi niche will lead to a loss of interest; often forcing 'II' to pleasant background music.
- Sean Coffey