Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sophomore record, II, is in no rush. It feels like an idle Sunday–the kind we waste walking around the neighborhood, dazed and coffee-hungry, allowing hours to fluidly pass and the sun to glide across the sky. UMO gave us more of what we loved from their self-titled debut album: hooks, falsetto, fuzz, and a little bit of the strange, while exploring sounds only touched upon previously. This album is undoubtedly groovier, with much of it seemingly fueled by the same fire that created the single “How Can You Luv Me” from their debut album.
Ruban Neilson, singer/songwriter of the band, possesses a voice that casually slides into the upper register in a perfectly nasal falsetto, a lovely pairing for smooth and sparse guitar chords. Instead of belting it, he delivers unperturbed and introspective lyrics, complete with the charm of a white boy who hasn’t grown out of his middle school malaise.
“So Good at Being in Trouble” is the runaway hit on the album. It features refreshing jazz-inspired chords and unexpected chord changes that bring a sense of cool instability. The groove-to-grunge ratio is spot on here: punctually placed chords outline the skeleton of the song, the bass grooves without giving in to cliches. The chorus “so good at being in trouble/so bad at being in love” resonates for its melodic hook and simple truth. It’s contemplative, yet feel-good. “One at a Time” follows, smelling of mothballs and garage must, in the best possible way. This track blends more straight-ahead rock, with expansive guitar chords, and a few trumpet accents.
The longest track on the album, “Monki” clocks in at over seven minutes long. One of the moodier tracks on the album, it asks us “who cares what god is/or what a guitar is/or that you were born?” In many ways those three questions are the mantra of this album; it’s unconcerned with showiness, and is more given to introversion and contemplation. The lyrics of the album focus more on experiences and emotions, rather on meaning-making.
This band moves impressively between R&B-inspired bass lines and garage rock chords, navigating the psychedelic rock world expertly by not giving into useless bleeps, bloops, and static, nor making the listener feel like too much of a dead-beat. (If you are indeed feeling bad about being a deadbeat, that’s on you.) Even “Faded in the Morning,” the most drug trope relient song, has hooks aplenty, and all too relatable lyrics: “sun is rising, stings my eyes/and don’t wanna die today/faded in the morning time.” UMO manages to capture that feeling of hazy morning time throughout the entire album; it’s warm, unhurried, and unfolds slowly.
This album receives a ***RATING*** of:
Catherine LeClair is a Maine native who is still confused by suburbs but can now successfully hail her own cab. She didn’t wander too far down the coast; after recently graduating from Boston College with a degree in English, she now lives and works in Boston. In her free time, Catherine enjoys going to local shows, finding great nacho joints, and scoping out cute dogs on the street. Please do not try and call her Cathy.