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Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food (Album Review)

Wednesday, 18 April 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Neil Krug

A simple glance at the tracklisting would lead you to think that ‘Sex & Food’, the fourth album by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, is intently focused on the political context in which it was born. Ours is a world of technological turmoil and political pandemonium, and more than half of the song titles here scream of a critical appraisal of our current climate.

Among them you have Major League Chemicals, Ministry of Alienation, American Guilt, Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays, This Doomsday, The Internet of Love...but look further. Maybe that’s not the whole picture. In multiple interviews, the brain behind UMO, Ruban Nielson, has stated the record “is not political at all”, but simply “exists in a highly politicised time”.

While Major League Chemicals suggests the impending threat of nuclear war, it’s actually about doing drugs in a toilet cubicle and the desire to be someone else for a day; to forget your problems.

With a bluesy guitar tone reminiscent of Hendrix-esque psychedelia and a riff to match, the listener is taken to a time of escapism and hedonism. In comparing dissociative substances with “miracles in a bathroom stall”, Nielson exhibits the need to flee, whatever the risks.

On Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays, however, narcotics are replaced with technology, smartphones and other modern ills. It’s party track that ricochets off the back of Can’t Keep Checking My Phone and the fun of How Can You Luv Me from their debut. Nielson avoids being preachy, instead choosing to bounce around warm synth chords and a solid, driving snare beat. He tells us that these seemingly harmless addictions may well be the thing that drives us all crazy: “My thinking is done by your machine.” After all, you “can’t escape the 20th century”.

Or can you? ‘Sex & Food’ was recorded all over the world, in Seoul, Hanoi, Reykjavik, Mexico City, Auckland, and Nielson's hometown of Portland. Whether read as an escape from American Guilt, or a simple search for inspiration, the global influences affect the record in a revealing way. It creates a complex jigsaw of times and places, memories, tales, and exploration.

It may sound all over the place, with the disco beats and lounge jazz-infused tenderness of The Internet of Love and How Many Zeros alongside the abrasive guitar riffs of American Guilt, but each song has layers in common - the untamed funk you just cannot get out of your body, that feeling of human understanding, and relatability.

This album is human more than it’s political. In that way, it will transcend the parameters of its context and be significant even when the world has moved on, and it will mean something different to every listener. With the simplicity of its title, Nielson explores how in times of crisis and tension, humans will always gravitate back towards the basic physical and carnal pleasures in life - sex, food, and dancing. Unknown Mortal Orchestra have always known how to throw a good party, and when the end of the world comes, head to Ruban’s house.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu May 24 2018 - LONDON Roundhouse
Fri May 25 2018 - BRISTOL SWX
Sat May 26 2018 - MANCHESTER Strange Waves
Sun May 27 2018 - LEEDS World Island
Wed November 21 2018 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall

Click here to compare & buy Unknown Mortal Orchestra Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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