Unknown Mortal Orchestra kick off the springti…

Unknown Mortal Orchestra kick off the springtime bloom with ‘Sex & Food’

Tony Fink

Unknown Mortal Orchestra kick off the springtime bloom presenting their fourth LP release Sex & Food. The consistent thread through the UMO catalog remains strong; frontman Ruban Nielson spins a soulful vocal over a backdrop of melodically rich music and slick rhythm. This album builds on many of the synthesizers and sampled drum textures introduced on the previous breakout LP Multi-Love in 2015, but offers a different ride. The entire album was covertly previewed in SB-05, the 2017 installment of a Christmas day instrumental/ambient track released digitally for free. Upon first listen, Sex & Food reveals each song in its full form, a pleasant surprise.

“Major League Chemicals” and “American Guilt” stand out in their delivery as the UMO brand of heavy rock hinted at five years ago in “Faded in the Morning” and “No Need for a Leader”. Apart from these songs, the record sounds like the chronicle of a drug-induced fever dream, for better or worse.  The tracklisting alternates between upbeat yet subdued disco cuts “Hunnybee”, “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” and “How Many Zeros” to wispy guitar compositions that are musically unique, but a test of patience on a digital listener’s skip reflex. The ballad single “Not in Love We’re Just High” builds an infectious crescendo to arrive at a final chorus that lasts all of 30 seconds, leading into the comedown of a closing track. A handful of listens reveals this album to lack the consistent focused, dynamic grip that Multi-Love takes on with almost every song.  

Once again Nielson’s lyrics sweep from personal relationships to societal unease. The slightly aimless tracks appear to be tied to themes of postmodern dysphoria, which may be at the heart of the statement Sex & Food. The UMO lyrical approach provides a poetic perspective on the world in contrast to the Tame Impala journey further inward or King Gizzard’s quests to la-la land.

The recording notably took place in six countries including New Zealand, Vietnam, South Korea, the US, Mexico, and Iceland. The journey around the globe may be vaguely apparent through the words, barely at all in the music and clearly only in the credits. The trademark production is consistent with Multi-Love, an exotic work as is; the self-produced group is made up of two Kiwis and an American. Nielson has already hinted in the album release press lap that the worldwide recording sessions yielded an additional LP worth of krautrock material that was in the can by the time Sex & Food hit shelves and could be out before the end of the year. Any UMO release is worthy of anticipation.

Overall the album delivers a good batch of songs from a group that indie and modern psychedelic music fans should expect as much from. As an album it doesn’t live up to the experience of Multi-Love, nor does it contain the single like “So Good at Being in Trouble” that will cross over into the general music consumer sphere. Sex & Food might not change the world but it keeps us interested.