As I sit here in this rocking chair, I find myself swinging my foot to the first track of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's new record II, "From the Sun". The aptly named song shines an acoustic melody like sun beams before lead singer Ruban Nielson arrives like a creep on the sweet breeze, singing about loneliness and guns.
The foot-swingin' part breaks in with the recognizable kick-snare and bouncing bass found on UMO's first record, along with some vintage guitar squonks. The song ends with some noodling, submerging into a shallow pond, where the rest of the album seems to exist. The next couple of tracks definitely have that speaker-under-water sound also a staple in the band's tackle box.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra seem to have refined their songwriting on this new record. Sticking with sounds borrowed from vintage funk, psych-pop, and a little garage, each song feels more straightforward and less of a miss-mosh, giving the record a less experimental and more focused feel than their first offering.
II is at the same time more relaxed and more fiery than previous material, but in itself, it struggles to find the right balance of the two. It's nice to hear some light 45-soul on "So Good At Being in Trouble," but could have been better with the bass to the front, instead of Nielson's mild vocals. A better balance of sound is found on the Hendrix-inspired wah-wah cruiser "One At A Time."
Although this record has some of the best grooves we've heard from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, it suffers from restraint. A song like "No Need For a Leader," where we hear UMO get a little heavy in the guitar department, is weakened by a heavier hand on the lo-fi filtering, as well as being too long for its own good.
A track like the alien-strumental "Dawn" reminds me that maybe this lost-then-found-in-an-old-burnout's-attic aesthetic is more important to UMO than actually hearing the pretty great guitar and bass parts. I imagine taking this record in my car and wanting to turn up the song "Faded In the Morning," (one of the best on the album), but mostly this record gives me psych-rock blue balls - frustrating. Its riffs don't rip enough, never taking me to the "holy crap" hell hole of heaviness it sometimes hints at. The effected vocals avoid swimming deep enough into the technicolor dream.
Despite this criticism, I think that II is a good album, and it shows even more promise for a relatively new band. Although I think rock of this type deserves to be a bit louder and surfaced than it is here, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have made a nice mellowed-out sophomore LP that stays true to their character while showing that they're more than an experiment in sound.
Listen to "So Good At Being In Trouble"