artist: unknown mortal orchestra
album: II
label: jagjaguwar
genre: psych/funk
Unknown Mortal Orchestra's sophomore record, II, came out very early in the year (February), but it's stayed in my rotation and, fittingly, it starts the list. This strange and peculiar album manages a feat that many have tried, but most cannot attain: You have a hard time telling when it came from. Nowadays, everyone is searching for (and abusing) that "vintage sound," but II succeeds in sounding like a record from that "unknown" band in your uncle's dusty record collection.

And dusty it is, in fact, it almost feels like they recorded the entire record on tapes that had previously held decades of overdubs. It benefits greatly from a bit of volume. Singer/guitar player Ruban Nielson's intricate riffs are muffled and obscured on almost every track, his vocals expertly doubled, and the drums are pushed through that stereo split so popular in the 60's. The songs have a cool vibe due to this treatment, but don't necessarily need it for beauty. Each instrument exists separately on the same level, and there is an enjoyable simplicity to this presentation.

The first three tracks are solid and laid back. "From the Sun" can get a little solo-heavy, but Neilson is so creative that it's more soothing than swagger. In "Swim and Sleep" he searches for purpose in nonsensical situations. From there, it clenches and gets funkier: "One at a Time" jumps into your head and bounces around with swirling fury, "No Need For A Leader" builds and chugs along, layering murky guitars and vocals before a pretty sweet bass solo and reprise.

II gets more experimental from there, and the back half of this record requires a bit of patience. Full of phase and flange and overdrive. You're rewarded at the end, however, with "Secret Xtians." It's optimistic condemnation at it's best, and closes out a solid and cohesive record from the Portland trio. Contrary to most reviews, I enjoyed this album more than their self-titled debut, and look forward to the third installment of UMO.


10 UMO