So many bands like to describe their music as "psychedelic." Maybe it's cause it sounds cool, or maybe it's because it sounds fun, or maybe it's because it lends itself to kaleidoscopic visuals. When I first heard Unknown Mortal Orchestra's new album,Multi-Love, the concept of psychedelia felt fundamental to the experience and somehow re-invented. The music speaks for itself, futuristic synth-laden textures layered through funk and soul all dusted in a psychedelic aura, influenced by the likes of Electric Light Orchestra. The lyrics are like riddles, and it's only once you learn the inspiration for the album that it all comes together and becomes infinitely more interesting. Ruban Nielson, the man primarily behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra, recorded most of album in the basement of his family home in Portland, OR, which is pictured in the album's cover. The photograph was taken by a woman who, for several months, joined Nielson's family and embarked on an adventure of polyamory.
If the first album was about the joy and optimism of his first-born son joining the family. Then the second was about his fears of inadequacy at being a father. This third album is about the excitement, the danger and the complications that come from being in multi-love.
Of the time in his life that he was living this and working on the album, Nielson has said, "Think about the two most serious relationships in your life so far, and then experiencing them simultaneously. It makes you wonder: How much can a human being deal with emotionally? How well-adjusted are you?" And it translates into the music.
Regardless of what happens personally, it fueled the art, and that's what it's all about isn't it? It's the art that remains and that sustains, our lives just become one big experiment.
Listening to this album, I imagine a full band playing underwater in a bright blue swimming pool the sun glinting through the surface, and colorful, tropical fish are smiling and swimming by, and breathing has no longer become an obstacle. "The World is Crowded" comes to minded.
Of course upon closer listening, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, this album is exploring some profound and somewhat novel terrain. We still live in an incredibly suppressed culture when it comes to gender and relationship politics, but there's also pockets of places where it's coming undone, maybe as there's always been. When it does, it springs open, like a dam whose resistance has been worn down by the sheer power of the water. And Nielson is fearlessly exploring what it is, how do we allow love in our lives? How when one expands their notion of it, what do we risk losing? This album feels new, it feels like something old is being re-discovered but also totally being re-invented. The questions Nielson is asking, and the feelings he's grappling with, in this album, are in line with the flow of progress, the flow of the future.
It leaves the listener in this weird inter-space between the playful and light sound of "Multi-Love" and the lyrics, "You came into my heart/Trashed it like a hotel room." While writing this piece, the typo I consistently make is writing "multi-life" instead of "multi-love." Does the latter require the former? Is it possible to have it all in one life? Nielson doesn't give us any answers, as he shouldn't, but he gives us something beautiful that came from it.