Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex and Food Review

New Zealand born and Oregon based project of Reuben Neilson returns with their fourth full length album off the back of Multi-Love from 2015. With Sex and Food they have looked to ply gloomy Disco with brazen Psych Rock and combine that with deeper lyrical observations of the world around them. They have sought to balance their finessed approach with the more scattered mentality of their other tracks. It’ll be to balance this and ensure each approach compliments each other track by track for a complete album

‘American Guilt’ ramps up the typical mild lo-if sound to fuzzy, distorted whirring with Reuben’s creaking vocals cutting through to the centre of the sound. It evokes all of that Desert Rock imagery and though immaculate in its delivery; it is a well worn sound and you imagine one that can only serve them a finite amount. Though it does show that they can tangle with a bulkier, heavier sound, it this is not an album defining song, but is one that’s hard to ignore amongst the track listing. The mere concept of the title ‘American Guilt’ signals the sharp tongued lyrical intent for the album. ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’ falls into the finesse category. Familiar chiming organs and keys give way to a crisp beat with shuffling support from which similarly smooth chamber instrumentation bops on to a quickened tempo. Reuben’s hushed falsetto sails easily over it all as his vocals are cleverly backed up by the bass line only; thus freeing other elements to accentuate and expand the boundaries of the song. A cleverly arranged and produced track which despite its infectious hooks features including ‘we’re growing in a viscous garden, we don’t complain for nothing’ as they reflect the feelings of the current generation. A poignant message packed into a piece of funky electronica.

‘Not In Love We’re Just High’ begins as an slow, oscillating track which drops pools of electronica with the space and free for Neilson’s vocals to wander in and out of soulful caricatures. Beats eventually befall the track as it gradually grows to a larger sound with backing vocals, distorted hi-hats and the inevitable plunge into depths of Neo-Psych guitar. It is generally a mature, well developed track. ‘Major League Chemicals’ fully embraces this tag with the warped guitars, rumbling bass lines and manipulated vocals; even organs are thrown in for good measure to emulate a retro piece of Psychedelia. ‘Hunnybee’ is most reminiscent of the pie last album with falsetto vocals atop Pop strings and arrangements. The album is undoubtedly a solid effort and does nothing to diminish the talent of Neilson’s project as they go on to push their lyrical content further into view and continue to push their sound to its boundaries. One thing missing is a musical direction track by track. The album often seems lost and it isn’t variety where it stumbles, but consistency in-track. Some get lost in a lack of production discipline as they try to chase fruitless transitions and progressions. With a little more consideration and imagination this album would have been amazing, but instead confirms what we already know about UMO.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex and Food = 8/10

Owen Riddle

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