Put on your headphones for this one or you might miss some of the best moments.
Ruban Nielson has come a long way since Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s 2011 self-titled album. Throughout UMO’s discography, Nielson has incorporated wavy fuzz, muffled vocals and catchy hooks. Their fourth album, “Sex & Food,” has all of that and more. “Sex & Food” is more or less an extension of UMO’s 2015 masterpiece “Multi-Love” with dense production and tracks that hit even harder.
My reaction to the album title was met in the same way as when Wilco released their surprise album “Star Wars”: intrigue and confusion. Nielson said he chose the title because he wanted something positive and “kind of dumb” to offset the current craziness happening in the world, primarily the craziness going on in America.
The popping bass and faint piano on the first track “A God Called Hubris” sounds almost like a remix of Tame Impala’s “Apocalypse Dreams” at first listen. It leads perfectly into “Major League Chemicals,” the first full song on the album, which starts with a borderline Jimi Hendrix progression until halfway through the riff when Nielson throws the creepy UMO twist on it.
Have you ever wondered what it might sound like if John Mayer collaborated with UMO? Me neither, but “Hunnybee” may be the closest we will ever get. The riff that drives the song sounds like something in between an upbeat take on “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and “Vultures.” The sharp solo at the end resembles the sweet sting that Nielson sings in the chorus.
Best Tracks: “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays,” “Hunnybee,” “The Internet of Love (That Way)” and “Major League Chemicals”
The dense, chaotic tracks are complemented with minimalist slower songs, but that’s not to say they are any less interesting than “American Guilt” or “Major League Chemicals.” When the faster songs may sometimes seem like too much to take in, the slower tracks are full of subtle gems that you may not catch the first time around. The dripping sound after every beat in the intro of “Ministry of Alienation” and the escalating noise paired with a saxophone at the end are part of what makes this album unique. The background creaking in “The Internet of Love (That Way)” makes it seem like Nielson’s strings are going to snap as he violently plucks his strings.
“Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” could easily be mistaken for a song on “Multi-Love.” It almost parallels “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” with an intro that establishes and then trails off, a high hat on the downbeat and an unforgettable melody when Nielson sings the song title in the chorus.
Should you listen to it? Yes.
No band sounds quite like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. With so much uniform indie music coming out these days that all seems to run into each other, it is refreshing to have something new and innovative like UMO. Nielson stated in an interview that he has a krautrock electric-jazz album recorded and ready to go. We could possibly be graced with that sometime this year.
Catch Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Gothic Theater in Denver on July 16.
Collegian reporter Jonny Rhein can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jonnyrhein.