Unknown Mortal Orchestra: V (Jagjaguwar) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, February 20th, 2024  

Unknown Mortal Orchestra



Mar 17, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Ruban Nielson knows he makes music for you to live to. When the Unknown Mortal Orchestra songwriter and frontman announced his fifth studio album V, he tweeted, “just like any UMO record I wanted to construct the solid jams to accompany you through your drive to work, your train ride, your chemical experiments, your panic attacks, hook-ups, break-ups, tailgate parties.” Sure, some of those things are serious. There’s nothing more important than a tailgate. But, for the most part, Nielson is okay with your passive focus. He’s making music to accompany you, not to demand your undivided attention.

And V does this by zeroing in on the essence of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and scrapping any of the unnecessary bits. Gone are the meditations on surveillance (“American Guilt”) and the infamous illustrations of polygamy (“Multi-Love”). Nielson doubles down on the dry, crackly heat of his ’70s California sound, like if you took Gaucho-era Steely Dan and gave it the textural grit of sandpaper.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra have always been a vibes-forward artist, and their commitment to making vacation-friendly rock on V makes for a luxurious and sun-basked listen. V’s multiple instrumentals (“The Widow,” “Shin Ramyun,” “Keaukaha,” “Drag,”) give it the bulk of a double album and recall the sparseness of fellow desert-rock chill-band Khraungbin. The snippets of lyric that do make their way through Nielson’s muffle build on the album’s ’70s rockstar mood board: powdered noses on “Nadja,” swimming drunk under the palm trees on “That Life,” a nod to the classic rock staple “Layla.”

But while those ’70s AOR albums embraced the underbelly of that hedonistic lifestyle, V stays a bit too comfortable. Opener “The Garden” promises “violence after dark” that never seems to arise.

Single “I Killed Captain Cook” tells the story of the Hawaiian who killed 18th century colonizer James Cook. But the song opts for a softer and sentimental angle. It’s dedicated to Nielson’s mother, a native Hawaiian, who often shared this story with pride. “I Killed Captain Cook” invokes the underrepresented perspective of native Hawaiians, but it doesn’t shake up the record’s poolside dazing either.

Even if V isn’t as shadowy or nuanced as its reference points, it’s a reminder that sometimes, it’s nicest to just sit in the sun for a bit. (www.unknownmortalorchestra.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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