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Unknown Mortal Orchestra - V (Album Review)

Tuesday, 21 March 2023 Written by Craig Howieson

Photo: Juan Ortiz Arenas

From their inception Unknown Mortal Orchestra have been musical outliers. Decidedly ‘anti-scene’, the group, fronted by songwriter Ruban Nielson, have always incorporated a twisted nest of influences into their sound.

From lo-fi garage dwellers, to psych-rock enthusiasts, to shy party observers, the group’s records are havens for those who struggle to fit in; places where nothing needs to be nailed down, and the music takes precedence over all.

Leaving his base of Portland behind, the majority of the music for Nielson’s latest album ‘V’ was conceived between a new house in Palm Springs and Hilo, Hawai’i, where he found himself looking after and reconnecting with family. 

Written with his brother Kody, Jacob Portrait, and featuring his father Chris, a sunny disposition and echoes of a comforting West Coast charm dust a number of the tracks, yet it never diminishes the eccentricities that make the double album such an exciting voyage. 

In The Rear View is a perfect mash up of fuzzy rock and barbed soul that finds Nielson longing for the quiet highways, alone with his thoughts. Elsewhere the ‘80s pop of That Life conjures the neon glow of Miami at night, before the squelch of bass and disco-funk stylings of Weekend Run drag you from the streets onto the sweaty dancefloor.

The most enduring quality Nielson possesses as a songwriter is his refusal to fit any particular mould—there are moments on ‘V’ that would make many of his peers baulk. But whether it's the jazz freakout that closes The Widow or the wigged out guitar solo that takes pride of place on Layla, nothing that Nielson does feels like a misstep. 

The surprising thing about ‘V’ is not the quality of the songs—that much we have come to expect —it is the sheer amount of them, and the fact they coalesce into an hour-long musical odyssey that could be played on loop ad infinitum. 

As the sun soaked groove of the six minute instrumental Drag closes proceedings, we are left with a collection of songs that find increasingly novel ways to inspire and uplift. Another album for outsiders who find solace in the unexpected, ‘V’ could be Nielson’s pinnacle to date.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue May 30 2023 - BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion
Wed May 31 2023 - LONDON Troxy
Thu June 01 2023 - LONDON Troxy
Thu June 15 2023 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Fri June 16 2023 - LEEDS Leeds University Stylus
Sat June 17 2023 - GLASGOW SWG3 Galvanizers
Mon June 19 2023 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Boiler Shop
Wed June 21 2023 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol

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