Better than sex or food
Coming back after their 2015 release, Unknown Mortal Orchestra returns with the creamy Sex and Food, a 12-track album that delivers. They have clearly found a sound that works for them but don’t feel pressured to keep that sound throughout the album. Now, do the stylistic outliers please the ears more than the others? TBD, but this project is as pleasing as the components of its title.
They drop only two short songs in the mix, a well-balanced ratio just like a tasteful amount of cinnamon. Neither of these two is a stand-out, but they both bring good tunes to the table. “A God Called Hubris,” the opening song, is a quirky number propelled by a music-major friendly chord progression and sprinkled with a cool rhythmic stutter effect, both of which keep the listener from getting too comfortable. If only it were longer. The other half-pint, “Chronos Feasts on His Children,” is arguably less interesting overall, but contributes to the buttery indie sound projected by most of the album.
The lyrics on “Major League Chemicals” are masked by vocal effects and the song’s production but describe the severity of the character’s problems with drugs and insecurity. “She wanted to find a way / To be someone else for a day,” or perhaps several days. Structurally, it only contains a refrain and chorus, but behind the instrumentals, the lyrics say everything they need to. If like many, this is heard without a care for the words, it has a “check out our new headquarters” sort of sound (22 Jump Street comes to mind) and is one of two outliers of the overall style; this one less so than “American Guilt.”
“American Guilt” is the product of a methodical garage band, one who balances the need for head-banging, dirty sounds with the intention and talent of a group fit for a more tame venue. This is not necessarily the song to show a friend when recommending this album, but it is a solid tune even if it’s unaccompanied.
Ultimate relaxation strikes at “Ministry of Alienation,” and the natural craving for a song in three is satisfied with “The Internet of Love (That Way),” two examples of the sunshine-coated, goosebump-inducing sound on which this album is built. A particularly neat feature of the latter tune is the soft snare. Most waltz songs really bring it at the start of every other bar to solidify the three-four feel, whether it’s the guitar, keys, or drums who does it, but this one doesn’t make that a priority and thus, deserves praise.
The trio of “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays,” “This Doomsday” and “How Many Zeros” exhibits that same scrumptious sound and also shows off the songwriting talent of the band. Each one of these sees the melody playing around well the phrasing of the lyrics and the cooperation with the instrumental underneath. All three of these could be examples of a job well done for a songwriting class.
While those are all good and enjoyable songs, “Hunnybee” and “If You’re Going to Break Yourself” are easily the two best. The former beckons to be heard on a sunny day and it won’t even allow anyone to get through the song without cracking a smile at least once. Instrumentally? Tasty as can be. Lyrically? Buzzing with catchiness. It’s a surprisingly delightful tune that’ll make everyone wish they heard it sooner. Less happy but perhaps more catchy is the album’s closer, “If You’re Going to Break Yourself”– a message for those with bottled-up problems that party too hard in lieu of talking it out. Its hook rides the line between wiping-your-hands-clean-with-satisfaction and finally giving and crying on about what’s been on the mental. At first, it didn’t seem fit for an album closer, but a second and third listen cements its place as the right way to end a successful effort from a band that’s not going away anytime soon. This album is definitely deserving of a few spins.