Unknown Mortal Orchestra on “Sex & Food” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Unknown Mortal Orchestra on “Sex & Food”

Enlightened Grooves

Apr 27, 2018 Unknown Mortal Orchestra Photography by Neil Krug Bookmark and Share

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Not every punk ascribes to the “disco sucks” movement. In fact, Unknown Mortal Orchestra frontman Ruban Nielson dives right into such highly danceable grooves on the new album Sex & Food, despite New Zealand-born Nielson’s neo-punk roots in prior bands like The Mint Chicks.

Nielson says he and his bandmates in Unknown Mortal Orchestra drew inspiration from disco for the title track of their last album, Multi-Love, but Sex & Food turns that flirtation into a full on affair with songs like “Hunnybee,” the baseline and drums of which dazzle like sequence on a bell bottomed jumpsuit, with nary a pandering indie rock guitar riff in sight. Ruban Nielson recruited his brother Kody Nielsonwho was his bandmate in The Mint Chicks, and began working with his sibling again on Multi-Loveto contribute danceable percussion on Sex & Food.

“We both like geeky, outlier disco, rather than the cannon stuff that everyone knows about,” Ruban Nielson says of he and his brother’s mindset as they penned several Sex & Food songs together. “He’s become a great disco percussionist on his own after we stopped working together so closely in The Mint Chicks. He understands disco like I do, that it actually had its roots in punk rock and through jazz, and there was lots of crossover before it went mainstream.”

With new songs like “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowdays,” “How Many Zeros,” and especially “Hunnybee”which is dedicated to Ruban Nielson’s daughter, sharing its title with her middle namehe is exploring “all those things that were off limits to a dedicated punk rocker, which I find this perverse joy in delving deeply into.” He adds that such divisions never had any artistic merit, and instead stemmed from mainstream America’s bigotry toward the queer and African American musicians at disco’s forefront. Such genre boundaries, Nielson points out, were “drawn by people who had separate agendas. It’s not an interesting reason to reject something; in fact it’s an immoral reason.”

Nielson takes an even more blatantly liberal approach on “American Guilt,” one of the album’s few songs that’s harder and guitar driven, and features the hoarsely sung chorus “Oh no! Here comes the American guilt.” Having moved to Portland, Oregon a decade ago, Nielson feels very much immersed in American culture, and complicit in its moral ambiguities.

He explains: “I benefit from being here. But there’s guilt that grows with being here. I’ve read about how high the percentage of your tax dollars going to the military industrial complex is. Just by living there, you’re contributing to the problem no matter how liberal you are, or what you make with your work.”

Despite that political muse, Nielson is quick to add that “American Guilt,” is not a righteous protest song. Rather than seeing it as a call to arms, he instead says it’s one of Sex & Food‘s more introspective tracks. “I suppose the song is about my feeling guilty, rather than pointing the finger. Anything negative I say in my songs is a criticism about myself, and it’s always about people and not politics. I’m just talking about my own personal experience. If people relate to it, that’s all I care about.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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