Under Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Despite its nearly ubiquitous usage in indie circles, low fidelity aesthetics are rarely employed to their most power effect. It’s one thing to make your modern record sound like it was recorded in your bedroom or basement (in fact, there’s a very good chance it was), but to use sonic textures themselves to evoke a certain period in music history takes real skill. Grown in New Zealand but based in Portland, Unknown Mortal Orchestra brings a retro slant to a breadth of influences on their self-titled debut. Unknown Mortal Orchestra begins with the track that started it all for the group: “Ffunny Ffriends.” It sets up the album’s primary musical theme, with Julien Ehrich’s mechanical yet natural backbeat, leader Ruban Neilson’s over-processed guitar and Jake Portrait’s thick bassline. Nielson’s vocal melody is doubled by his guitar, giving “Ffunny Ffriends” a playfully familiar sound. With a sense of humor not unlike Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Nielson’s songs deal with amusingly simple subjects. The tense “Strangers Are Strange” and the leisurely “Jellos And Juggernauts” are meditations on knowingly silly topics.

While they might not take themselves too seriously on the lyrical front, Unknown Mortal Orchestral excel in constructing inviting psychedelic garage-funk. “Thought Ballune,” with its group (or perhaps manipulated) vocals, sounds like a lost nugget of ‘60s pop. The album boasts variety, too: an effect-heavy guitar intro leads to a punchy rave-up on “Nerve Damage!,’ and the only thing missing from “Bicycle” might be a sitar break. With so many bands growing out of the confines of their home studios, Unknown Mortal Orchestra show promise to succeed regardless of whether or not their sound gets spruced up. The fuzz adds to the band’s character but doesn’t define it. The songs on Unknown Mortal Orchestra, scrubbed of their distorted boom, would still be some of the catchiest grooves to come out this year.

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~ by E. on July 22, 2011.

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