Album Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

UnknownMortalOrchestra“II manages to strike a good balance, showcasing a much more developed sound that plays host to a few real gems…”

Unknown Mortal Orchestra  |  II

The self-titled debut album from Unknown Mortal Orchestra provided the previously unfamiliar group with quite the springboard to notoriety, garnering much critical attention for a group that frontman Ruban Nielson merely thought to be a secondary diversion.  With their sophomore album II, the group have proven that this experiment has truly panned out.  Following in the footsteps of fellow psych rockers Tame Impala, they have continued the recent efforts to revitalize this genre of music by putting out an excellent album to keep the momentum going.

Album opener ‘From The Sun’ immediately shows that UMO are not content to lead with the bass lines that defined their first album.  Instead, one hears a light acoustic start until the drums and bass joins the fray a minute in.  They stray from their roots again with a minute left on the track, with a superb guitar solo that brings the track to a close.  This type of psych-rock solo that slowly fades can be heard concluding several other tracks as well, and reinforces the feelings of loneliness that so many of the album’s lyrics evoke.

First single ‘Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark)’ has a much more upbeat tone to it when compared to the rest of the album, but it doesn’t sound at all out of place.  Instead, the easygoing vocals pair nicely with its guitar hooks and adds some much needed equilibrium to the record.  ‘The Opposite of Afternoon’ complements the album in much the same way, adding some lightness to an album that might otherwise drift too far into glumness.

‘Monki’, by far the longest track at over seven minutes, seems to be channeling former tour-mates Portugal The Man, with understated but distinctive vocals from Nielson.  The song really stands out, but lumbers; reducing what otherwise might be a much larger impact.  In contrast, instrumental track ‘Dawn’ has synths that just seem out of place on the album, not going on long enough to really make a statement before transitioning to the drum and guitar intro of the much more standard ‘Faded In The Morning’.

The transition that a band undergoes in their subsequent albums can be a difficult one.  Stay too close to previous material and risk falling into a rut, stray too far and potentially fall away from what brought success in the first place.  Unlike many groups before it II manages to strike a good balance, showcasing a much more developed sound that will have fans eagerly anticipating their upcoming tour.  Until then, their devotees can satisfy themselves with an album with enough gems to outshine its flaws.