UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA // II

4.5/5

 

Ruban Nielson’s eponymous debut as Unknown Mortal Orchestra stuck to a simple formula, blending lo-fi breakbeats with deliciously distorted guitar pop. While it was an effective blueprint (see the excellent singles “FFunny FFrends” and “How Can U Luv Me”), it risked listener fatigue over the length of the LP. II, in contrast, is much more structurally ambitious. Besides the obvious, like the sprawling centerpiece “Monki” which opens with a minute of dissonant guitar noodling and “Dawn,” a seemingly overt nod to The Dark Side of the Moon’s “On the Run,” II covers a lot more sonic ground, veering from lo-fi R&B to Beatlesesque ‘60s pop to unabashed prog.

 

Moreover, while Unknown Mortal Orchestra was a slice of sunny psych-pop, II is a profoundly lonely record. The word crops up on almost every song, suffusing “Faded in the Morning” with an existential heft at odds with its day-drunk title. Likewise, lead single “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” seems playful until you realize Nielson’s gentle guitar belies his ache for a state between life and death—“a safe place, completely separate from being a human,” as he describes it. But while II is heavier than Nielson’s debut, it’s also more assured, more complex, and more interesting – a treasure trove of soulful psychedelia.

By: Michael Skinnider

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