If there’s one thing Unknown Mortal Orchestra have going for them it’s the first impression they generate. They seem to have it all, a love for meandering riffs, just the right amount of phasing, echoing and detuning effects and the perfect lo-fi edge suitable for the sort of basement psych-funk they create. But as their first two LP’s progress, you notice all their charm slowly getting out of focus. The songs are a mix between steady rocking riffs and a sort of up-beat-with-a-limp air, while the lyrical themes mostly deal with isolation, loneliness and heartbreak. At first you don’t notice anything off about it, but with each listen, theme and sound somehow drift apart, working together only when heard at the edge of complete focus. When immersed, you cannot avoid this gap staring at you from the heart of the songs.
Multi-Love comes as an attempt to fill that blank with an even stronger dance impulse and an even more clear theme. Ruban Nielson admitted that the LP deals with the tragic situation of loving two people equally at the same time and all the confusion, heartbreak and vulnerability that ensue, but somehow only manages to widen the gap at the heart of the first two releases. Nielson turns more ambitious, turns up the funk and includes an even wider array of gear into the mix, but still doesn’t fix the shaky ground his previous releases were standing on. He tries to take the lo-fi aesthetic into a musical direction which would normally require some sort of polish, either production-, lyrics- or composition wise, but falls short in all of these. Sure, Multi-Love is a great dancer, Ur Life One Night recalls Michael Jackson’s best work, and the small acoustic quasi-medieval interludes are a nice touch, but that’s exactly it. The reference points are far to clear throughout the material, making you lose focus of the songs after a pretty short while. Nielson’s plan for this album becomes clear far too soon.
But let’s get to the good stuff. The endlessly meandering riffs of Swim and Sleep Like a Shark are ever present, grainy analog goodness is spread all over and Nielson’s ever surprising, inventive production skills are getting better and better. One great gold star the album gets is for the production, which constantly changes focus and is one of the main elements keeping your attention. All the different sounds compete for the spotlight leaping over each another and interacting in the best of ways. Each small vibrato, detuned synth and reverb tail is exactly where it should be so it shines at its full potential. Also, they groove as hell. The World is Crowded starts as a slow blues number and gets full on gospel-R’n’B treatment once Nielson starts singing and Like Acid Rain is a sure fire dance-floor filler with its booty-shaking bass and shimmering arpeggios.
Whether Unknown Mortal Orchestra shoot to high with their ambition is arguably true, but the don’t move your lips-just shake your hips effect Multi-Love has is undeniable. And that may very well be the point, in which case, bravo!