Unknown Mortal Orchestra have once again effortlessly wrapped the spectrum between 60s pop and 70s psych-rock in a warm fuzz blanket that I’ve found difficult to put down. So here I am, wrapped in my metaphorical blanket opting to write this review in the hours of darkness to retrieve the full sense of what Ruban Nielson has called “A Night Album”.
II begins with the intimacy of a story-teller capturing the attention of their audience, with every finger slide on Nielson’s acoustic guitar drawing the listener in, poised to hear the opening words “Isolation can put a gun in your hand”. As From the Sun fades and the album progresses into the night we find ourselves in the dream-like single Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark) with a baroque style that was only touched upon in UMO’s 2011 debut but is explored more heavily throughout II, primarily in this track and album climaxer Secret Xthians.
The instant hit So Good at Being in Trouble, whose title it turns out was taken from the late night slurrings of a groupie, is one of those rarities that I can listen to again and again. Nielson’s controlled falsetto vocals effortlessly roll-over the spacious guitar chords and busy funk bass line with the simplicity of the lyrics “So good at being in trouble… So bad at being love” lending to its beauty. Funk driven One at a Time cleverly finds time within its 2.30 mins to include a Kevin Parker break down section, Zappa psych horns and lyrical content that reinforces the on-going theme of isolation and loneliness that echoes through II as Nielson laments “I’m only lonely through the night”.
60s-pop song The Opposite Of Afternoon and Zeppelin fuelled No Need For A Leader highlight Nielson’s influences that we saw in debut Unknown Mortal Orchestra but the double tracking effect and subtle flare of the vocals in the latter remind me more of Marc Bolan than Robert Plant. Spacey psych-rock Faded in the Morning also reverts back to the ‘monody’ heavily seen in UMO’s debut LP where the melodies of the vocal and guitar intertwine in a very engaging soloist style.
If, as the album suggests, each track takes you on a journey through Neilson’s emotive nightlife whilst on tour, then lo-fi psych track Monki represents sublimely that moment of emptiness and questioning of oneself often incurred by the imminent ‘come-down’ in the final hours of darkness, whilst the Mother Mallard alarm clock-like synth harmonies of Dawn are the starkness of daylight.
Just as immersive as UMO’s debut album yet more considered, II finds itself exempt from any real criticism. The only one I can find is the clarity of the lyrics in certain tracks but this doesn’t take anything away from what is already a high contender for album of the year for me. Plus it makes me sound like an old fart!