II – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“Who cares what God is?” singer Ruban Nielson intones over the psych-stoner jam of “Monki,” the seventh track of the new Unknown Mortal Orchestra album. Consider that query the thesis for II, a half-hearted attempt at the process of undermining. Undermining who or what? Doesn’t matter. Nielson and his power trio of a band — Jake Portrait on bass and Greg Rogove on drums — are simply delivering a powerful record of psych-rock grooves, an expansion upon their sound from 2011’s self-titled release.
Seductively adorned with British Wiccan Janet Farrar on the cover, II may act like a subversive record, but overall, isn’t. With song titles like “So Good At Being In Trouble” or “No Need For A Leader,” one might expect something other than the mellow funk sounds of UMO. However, there the beauty lies. The fun of the album isn’t the (weak) anti-establishment message but instead the music; the surreal soundscape combined with the imagery of Nielson’s lyrics is what actualizes II as an enjoyable experience.
Opening with the indie-funk “From the Sun,” the album sets the mood off right away: the musical formula from UMO’s previous release is still intact, thankfully, and with it is the alienation aspect. The lyrical dissonance of this opening track, with “Isolation / Can put a gun in your hand,” or with the singer raging against an ultimate authority figure, “If you need to / You can get away from the Sun,” forms the beginning of the absorption. This continues with the engaging “So Good At Being In Trouble,” a delicate, soulful track, which ends with the title repetitiously lilted. And, being just a perturbing minute of synth noises, “Dawn” comes right after the lengthy, aforementioned “Monki,” the latter being the make-or-break centerpiece of II, what with its warped guitar chords setting the syrup-paced psychedelia in motion. There’s a good chance that “Monki“ will be your favorite track on the album or least favorite.
Although Nielson sings about there being “no need for a leader,” there’s no doubt UMO is his creative vision, with the other two members playing follow-up to him. However, they bring a sense of balance to the kaleidoscope of music that is II. Often, the drums or bass will stand out the most. For instance, the track “One at a Time” picks up the mood with a Hendrix-inspired guitar and Lennon-sounding melodies, and the bridge of the song breaks with Portrait and Rogove proving their worth for the band.
Overall, II doesn’t need all of the hyperbolic anarchy. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the album, but the riotous imagery doesn’t help either. The expressive hallucinations of the music is enough for Nielson’s vision to come through: the wobbly guitar solos, steady bass, prismatic drum fills, and cryptic vocals are all we need. So, II is more Tame Impala than Rage Against the Machine, and that’s exactly how things should be.