Unknown Mortal Orchestra – V (★★★): Double album under the palm trees
It’s been five years since the New Zealand Unknown Mortal Orchestra released another album. If we take the album from the recent session IC-01 Hanoi without counting, the group now comes with its fifth album. Five years ago, fifth record; Brainstorming the name of their youngest couldn’t have taken long. v was released under their trusted former label Jagjaguwar, which Bon Iver, Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten also collaborated with. The label often guarantees bold indie music, but boldness and success don’t necessarily go hand in hand. In case of v (mostly) yes.
During the pandemic, UMO frontman Ruban Nielson began recording the record in Palm Springs, California. His brother Kody flew in from haka country especially to lend a hand. Filming was delayed as one of their uncles started showing health issues. The family took priority over music for a while and so they decided to pop over to the uncle in question, in Hawaii, of all people. After a long hospital visit, the brothers returned to Palm Springs to record the rest of the disc.
Their stay in sun-drenched Hawaii had an effect. Unknown Mortal Orchestra sounds hotter than ever. Not illogical when New Zealanders, inspired by their trip to Hawaii, record a record in California. For the average Benelux, the places can hardly seem more tropical. “The Garden” is the first of fourteen tracks on the album and opens with a few quiet piano chords. They quickly throw themselves into groovy guitar work, finished off by Nielson’s familiar vocals. Unknown Mortal Orchestra is one of those bands you should never have heard a song from and yet you can immediately tell with certainty that it belongs to them.
Before the release of the album, we had already received almost half of the songs as gifts. We have already heard the “Nadja” / “Layla” diptych and above all: we have also been able to see it. It tells the story of two young women, of friendship and loss. The accompanying music videos are masterfully crafted by the Brazilian directing duo – even more exotic! – Vira Lata. Both songs tend to lodge in your eardrum like earworms. Moreover, it can be said without guilt that “Guilt Pleasures” became the most catchy song. The vocals are great to sing along to and the drum part has just the right angle. “That Life” also finds the perfect groove, where sitting still doesn’t seem like the right option.
The album is far from perfect. The instrumental “Shin Ramyun” just isn’t interesting enough to keep you interested for almost five minutes and “In The Rear View” is also a bit neither fish nor meat. With its jazzy saxophone apotheosis, “The Widow” isn’t quite compatible with the rest of the album, but it brings a surprising note. And the closing “Drag” ripples a bit too long over the same repetitive track, which just makes it unexciting. It must be said that the long performer could have counted a few songs less and could have inserted a shorter interlude here and there instead of the instrumental fillers of more than five minutes.
Overall it’s v has become a successful successor that does not rely on an old recipe for success, but is also open to innovation. We are already curious what the successor will be – two dying Duvel bins VII will be called – will bring: further develop their sound or return to old formulas.
Curious to know how they do all this live? May 28, Unknown Mortal Orchestra rises Basic festival and also on Best Kept Secret pass the tape.
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Check out “Guilty Pleasures”, our favorite track from vin our Plate Playlist Image on Spotify.
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