Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Feb 04, 2013 Issue #44 - Best of 2012 - Grimes
Portland-via-New Zealand psychedelic soul auteur Ruban Nielson returns here with another batch of cozy nuggets. That word—nuggets—is not used lightly here, as Nielson's unabashed throwback vibe quickly invites comparisons to all the also-ran '60s artists on Nuggets compilations, or at times even venturing into Eccentric Soul territory. One is quickly reminded of other contemporaries who exist out of time: Kelley Stoltz, Tame Impala, the whole Elephant 6 crew, and so on.
And yes, one could easily use up 300 words discussing this sonic/historical context stuff—note how wonderful it is that artists today can so freely pick and choose from all of music history and adopt an aesthetic that completes their vision; get all red in the face defining the acceptable thresholds of homage and pastiche. But there's a third paragraph to move onto, and songs to discuss.
Nielson writes great songs. They'd still be great songs in full '80s cocaine-and-gated-reverb regalia, '90s purist indie rock production, or any other treatment. He pulls as generously from classic soul as he does from those deep vintage rock reserves, crafting great, visceral pop tunes with appeal far beyond their stylistic underpinnings.
Nielson's near-falsetto usually leads the way, and does so fantastically. "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)," for example, manages to recall Colin Blunstone and The Zombies, but—the twist?—trades in the baroque arrangements for a persistent northern soul beat. "So Good at Being in Trouble" slinks along perfectly on heartfelt whole notes and wonderful, long-phrase verses. "The Opposite of Afternoon" is a funky highlight, with a stellar guitar pattern (Nielson's got plenty), perhaps revealing more than a touch of Kinks influence. "Secret Xtians" ventures into Beatles-esque territory as much from its brilliant melody as from its bouncing bassline.
And thus, the inevitable "Beatles-esque" adjective has been dropped. Brings us full-circle, but now we're out of words. Go eat up these nuggets. (www.unknownmortalorchestra.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 9/10