Ruban Nielson, frontman of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, appears as a light that shines into the dark, experimental, and lo-fi world of psychedelic music. A scene that’s established it’s footing in a new wave of self-regulating music. Tame Impala, White Fence, No Age; these bands are rebuilding the engines of late 90’s garage rock, mid 70’s psychedelic, and early 00’s indie. And Ruban is leading UMO to the innovative cliff and daring others to jump with him.
Carried away into the geometrical sounds of UMO, Ruban belts perfectly timed vectors, as the kaleidoscope of prisms shake and mold. As the stench of sweat, weed, wood, and whiskey rose from the Troubadour’s well known and pounced on floors. Jake, and Riley pounded into my mind with what I affectionately call pysch-pop-punk, as Ruban added neon greens and pinks to the pastels of Jake and Riley’s rhythm. “Nerve Damage” seized me into a collective consciousness with the band.
Their songs secrete whispers, an echo of chambers as their catchy riffs wear into what makes psychedelic, well… psychedelic. Hazed reverberations and skipping rhythm, your soul becomes one with theirs.
These were my feelings after seeing UMO live in 2011. And a variance of these feelings was reproduced in 2012 when I saw them headline.
Cut to September 18th 2012, the first single of the new album was released. “Swim and Sleep Like a Shark” came out with a blaze of transparency that instantly had my tongue salivating. My anticipation for the album was inexpressible.
My first listen to “II” was arduous.
Ruban had something chilling to say but it was warm, profound but it was provocative, transparent yet it was masked by trippy sounds. In the job description for being an Artist, one must find their tone, and find subjects for their tone. This will shape the groups of people who follow that artist. If you want to be a rock star, you study Mick Jagger, Bon Scott, and Stephen Tyler. If you want to say something prophetic, you study Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Robert Leroy Johnson. But the one thing an artist has no control over is the dark subject matter that often finds a way of creeping into their lives. And disconnect, loneliness, and separation can be one of the darkest topics for artists to explore. It can make them relatable, or it can make them sound whiny. Psychedelic music has a big safety blanket, and that blanket is called drugs. (Stoner note: “Faded in the Morning” is 4 minutes and 20 seconds long) If you write a catchy and bright song, with fuzzy distortion and gnarly riffs, your lyrics can be as silly or mundane as you choose. But a self-aware artist will find a way to produce sincere and radical ideas that pop with flare, but haunt the crevices of where pain hides in the soul.
“II” demands your attention, its burdensome and heartfelt. Dare I say, “II” is the most confrontational psychedelic album since the peak of musical dialogue between John Lennon and Paul McCartney? Unknown Mortal Orchestra has elevated their consciousness, challenging new peaks of awareness. So sit down with a glass of water and your mushroom caps, and let your brain dissolve into societal responsibility, as UMO brings sharp funky psych melodies, with piercing and poignant lyrics that pulsate over contagious drum rhythms and perfectly timed fills.
The feeling of separation from society and people will distress the soul, and a creative expression can be very therapeutic.
“Isolation can put a gun in your hand” he warns about path of loneliness; “Don’t be grumpy or cold,” he sighs about Secret Xtians; “Sun is rising, stings my eyes, don’t wanna die today,” possibly the only hope he shares via wake and bake. Yet the warm sounds of Ruban’s 6-string gun make everything feel all right.
And when UMO comes to a town near you, go and experience an intertwining of souls, artist and subject, subject and material, material and responsibility. Be lifted, elevated, to the mountaintop where this three man orchestra will ask you if you are willing to jump off the cliff with them.