On paper Unknown Mortal Orchestra is far from a unique proposition: the work of one man band Ruban Nielson who makes nostalgic lo-fi pop which touches on psychedelic and hip hop styles. There are currently a thousand other chumps churning out this stuff at the moment. Why should I choose to listen to Unknown Mortal Orchestra above all those others you cry? Whilst a great deal of it is hipsterish posturing, there is some quality to be found amongst all that, and for the most part this is substance over style.
This kind of thing is popular at the moment because if it’s done right it can be bloody fantastic. And U.M.O is, on several occasions throughout this debut long player, legitimately fantastic; there’s a grasp of songwriting and crafting memorable little melodic nuggets which make this stand out from the pack. ‘How Can you Luv Me’ is one of the best examples, clattered drums and fuzzy wah wah guitar and a chorus of “How can you love me, when you don’t like me?” which is so insanely catchy that it’s impossible to dismiss. After which Nielson throws in a big extended instrumental passage in the middle, just to mess with you before sliding back into that effortless gutter pop.
Nielson refers to his sound as “junkshop record collector pop” and with the range of styles he incorporates it’s difficult to disagree. ‘Nerve Damage’ touches on eccentric electro before becoming a lo-fi punk scrawling, like The Ramones filtered through a broken voice box. This is followed by ‘Little Blu House’, which has a bizarre kind of folksy grace about it, a soft effusion of harmonics and imagined solitude.
There are a few tracks which seem like sketches rather than finished products, ones that don’t quite have that same melodic pop touch. This applies to the likes of ‘Strangers Are Strange’ and ‘Boy Witch’, the latter of which has some sparkles but tends to amble into tunelessness far too often in an attempt to be interesting, when it was doing a much better job at just being pleasant really. If you’re after a hazy nostalgia pop trip then Unknown Mortal Orchestra is for now one of the strongest of the bunch, only time will tell if he can capitalise and expand on the strength of this debut.