There are touchstones for this sound, more so than antecedents – much like The Flaming Lips in their prime, at their peak, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (or UMO) trace around an idea of modern-day psychedelia but the loopy, loping hippy-dippy flavours are the blueprint for experimentation, the backdrop for songs rather than some day-glo pastiche.
And though it might seem like UMO arrived as a fully-formed sound, this second album shows that sound is constantly evolving; it also shows that with the template in place Ruban Neilson is challenging himself to write better songs. This collection immediately outshines the debut even if there’s no one definite runaway hit this time. What there is in fact is a complete program this time – an album rather than a set of demos; a fully painted picture rather than the précis sketch.
Of the ten songs on this album there are six that feel like perfect pop, the other four are nothing close to filler; that’s just the level of songwriting – all of the colours help to shape the moods but Nielson knows the heart of a song. And his instincts here reflect a modern-day soul music, drenched in new guitar angles, sprayed with brittle-beat faux-funk.
I’ve lived with Unknown Mortal Orchestra II for a while now – I previewed it back before Christmas – and it continues to delight and excite; it continues to play out at the complete picture. Not many new albums you can say that about. I felt like, as soon as I heard it, I was listening to what would be one of the best releases of 2013. Sure, it’s only a couple of months on but I still feel that way. This record will be on several best of the year lists. Deservedly.