Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s silky, soulful psychedelia has taken an explorative turn in their third album, Multi-Love. The American-New Zealand trio have been critically prolific since 2011, with two previous albums and a world tour over the past four years. Their newest album, then, is an interesting piece.
The title track kicks off the album, lucid piano tinkles overlaid with the crooning vocals of singer Ruben Nielson and a quizzical, examining beat. An extremely strong start to the collection, this track contains both the pro of being a stand-alone hit, and also the con of somewhat showing up the following offerings. As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that the crystal clear melodies and weighty, bone swinging basslines that I love UMO for have vanished. The brash, sloppy track ‘Like Acid Rain’ follows ‘Multi-Love’, moving the sound of the album more towards sludgy low fi pop than the poised, pointed sounds distinctive to UMO’s critically acclaimed sound. The following track tells the same story – smudgy vocals, blurry sounds. The second lead single ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ pops up fourth in line, redemptive with its undeniable catch as the chorus breaks out, wavy vocals blending in with synths and a rapid fire drumbeat. Still, though, the songs drone on, failing to snag my attention through the jarring electronica and slurred vocals.
There’s just something a bit too noisy, a bit too crowded, about each track. It’s as if each sound is bouncing off the others at a slightly off angle. The songs have great potential, and flashes of catchy brilliance, but overall they fail to gel with quite the same brilliance as UMO’s earlier stuff. It’s a far cry from the bashful texture of 2013 album II, a wealth of satin-smooth hits such as ‘Swim and Sleep’ and ‘So Good At Being in Trouble’. Multi-Love has a couple of strong songs, but I just can’t shake the feeling of disappointment that pervades this album after such a stellar offering two years ago. The sleepy, haunting vocals have vanished for mumbled nonsensical refrains, the delicate thrums of the bass for awkward, fuzzy synths. The magnetising freshness of UMO seems to have over-ripened somewhat, to the point where they almost sound like a different band. Strains of the old sound remain in ‘Multi-Love’, and maybe a hint in ‘Necessary Evil’, but their glow for me has largely vanished. While I admire their attempt to break fresh ground, it seems like they already ticked that box with II, and were doing so very pleasantly indeed. A confusing offering…By Maddy Crammond