Love songs written at a remove
There is an interesting dichotomy between the cover of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s latest album and its title, Multi-Love. The photograph shows a supersaturated view of a home recording studio, the sort of place that is usually the realm of a solitary individual. The title (and title track), on the other hand, suggests the opposite of isolation: love, connectedness, entanglement.
There is also an interesting dichotomy between the sonic influences expressed on the recording. On the one hand, there is the unmistakable scent of southern hemisphere neo-psychedelia pop; a decidedly Tame Impala vibe. On the other hand, the vocals and arrangements evoke Stevie Wonder’s classic period. The end result is psychedelic modernism paired with soul sensibilities and an overtly low fidelity aesthetic. Sometimes, like with “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” the result is brilliant; spacey and expansive but grounded with soulful vocals, a danceable bassline and driving drum track. Compare this to the six muddy minutes that is “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty.” The effect of this song is akin to listening to the original recording “Telestar” by the Tornados played through cheap speakers that were stuffed in a coffee can before being submerged in a wading pool.
The closing track on this record, “Puzzles” is a real stand out. Here, a wide variety of genre influences are mixed into an impossibly layered piece that shouldn’t work by normal musical standards. It opens with an ephemeral mixture of ambient synths, traffic and breaking glass before sliding into an almost baroque section that suggests “The Rain Song” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” in equal parts. This is then slide-tackled out of the way by a wall of “Jimi-Hendrix-filtered-through-Lenny-Kravitz” guitars which are backed by clipped out drums. Then, all the previously mentioned discrete elements begin to mix and merge. There’s some paisley tinted OG psychedelia thrown in there with a punch of Cream and things swirl until it fades down to a bit of classical guitar.
Back to the opening dichotomy, this album is filled with songs written about love by someone who finds himself at a distance from his own feelings of love; someone trying to parse out what exactly is happening in an unfamiliar emotional landscape. At times it feels self-indulgently navel-gazey and some times it falls a bit flat, but at the end of the day it is definitely more of a hit than a miss.