REVIEW: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – V

Boy putting his hand near the mouth of a leopard

Like a lot of people, I first heard Auckland New Zealand psychedelic rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra around the release of their second album (II) in 2012 – ‘Swim Like a Shark’ remains pretty much a staple for any playlist I make. I was lucky enough to see them tour for that album and they were consistently impressive over the course of a couple of hours – making me think, wow these guys sound like Prince… Hendrix… Yo La Tengo…

That free-roaming, wide-ranging musical erudition remains in place for album five, V. Recorded in Palm Springs (where frontman Ruban Neilson hunkered down to try and avoid the worst of the pandemic) and Hawaii, and comprising the first double of their career, V feels like a greatest hits of songs you’re not quite familiar with, stopping off at all the regular UMO haunts you’d expect but including enough by way of surprises to keep you thinking hey, quite possibly these guys haven’t hit their peak yet.

Whilst it’s worth saying that UMO albums function like National albums in that they grow on you over time, immediate standouts this time around include the 70s AOR grooves of ‘Weekend Run’ and ‘The Beach’, the jazz wigginess of ‘The Widow’ and the bright shiny poppiness of a song like ‘That Life’. The band switch from what sounds like a relatively light George Harrison b-side on ‘Layla’ to the sort of extended jams you find on primo Yo La Tengo with ‘Shin Ramyun’. And that’s before you even mention the traditional Hawaiian vibes worked into ‘I Killed Captain Cook’.

All told, it makes for a beautiful tapestry of mellow vibes and experimental sonic workouts guaranteed to have you returning to it again and again. We might even go as far to say it’s UMO’s best yet.

Words by Pete Wild

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