Album Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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Ruban Nielson, formerly of the Mint Chicks, left music for a while but thank goodness he's back in Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Photo / Supplied
Ruban Nielson, formerly of the Mint Chicks, left music for a while but thank goodness he's back in Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Photo / Supplied

Though there was always an inviting pop side to the Mint Chicks, what made their music most striking was the volatile and often violent outbursts that took the songs to a more intense and interesting level. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - the new band led by former Mint Chick Ruban Nielson - is similarly catchy but the volatility is replaced by a lovely, twisted dreaminess and a crisp, psychedelic 60s mood. And the other thing you notice most about these 10 delightful tracks is how effortlessly unique they sound.

It's hard to believe when the Mint Chicks ended in a typically fraught blaze of chaos last year that Nielson almost gave up music altogether. In fact, he went back to his adopted hometown of Portland in the US with his family, hunkered down and got a real job. Thankfully, he started writing songs again at night after his kids were in bed. And what he's come up with is something fresh and accomplished - be it the dazed and playful opener Ffunny Ffriends, the deadbeat shuffle and spectral harmonies of Thought Ballune, or the fringe and butt-shaking boogie of centrepiece How Can You Luv Me, which is a song that could have been written for a 60s girl group.

It takes you to another musical world. And where the whimsy really takes off is on the adorably geeky guitar intro to Jello and Juggernauts, and on stand-out sing-along track Little Blu House with it's thrumming bass, distant background beat, and eerie high-pitched vocal.

Elsewhere a song like Strangers Are Strange saunters along with an oddball cockiness, before giving way to Boy Witch, a beautifully twisted cocktail of surf guitar, Love's psychedelic folk and wild Jimi Hendrix.

Nielson and his brother Kody, who is currently making music with Bic Runga, are talented songwriters, and both are in the running for an Apra Silver Scroll award with Ruban's Ffunny Ffriends and Kody's Darkness All Around Us named in the top 20 song list announced today. And not to make a competition out of it but Ruban has got off to a flier of a headstart with UMO. Also, one imagines because of the ease and pace with which these songs have appeared, there are many more yet to come.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: Mint collection of otherworldly pop

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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