Indulging in the retrograde pastime that is the immaculate indie scurry of The Beatles’ back catalogue is easier flippantly disregarded than it is done over the www. though momentarily, something or other will come up on SoundCloud before it’s snappily hauled back down again. And since the inauguration of the newfangled site’s newly injected and seemingly random continuous play feature, there have been a couple instances of late in which I’ve done some proverbial rubbing of disbelieving ears at there being something as winsomely refined as a jaunty ’60s Scouse ditty out there, only to find it to have in fact been just another felonious upload. And From The Sun – Ruban Nielson’s opening gambit on Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s imaginatively named second full-length, II – was one such to have made a disbeliever out of me, before that too was whisked away by the powers that be. “Isolation can put a gun in your hand” Nielson chimes, his voice entwined in the crackly vibe of a bygone time and a fragile, wilting guitar refrain. It’s backward thinking, and unmistakably indulgent but it’s with that a triumph from the nomadic onetime Mint Chick.
Though a reluctance to grapple with the now and instead contend with this then is a key theme throughout II. Of course as far as UMO’s own previous may be concerned, the eponymous début was something of a commemoration of many things throwback though as time has rattled on, Nielson et al. have receded further back into revered histories as might a withering hairline, or a monochromic sea foam. That he sings on ebullient lead single Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark): “I wish that I could swim and sleep like a shark does/ I’d fall to the bottom and I’d hide ’til the end of time” only enhances the actuality that the New Zealander is a man lost in time – drifting unassuming as microscopic plankton in an endless Pacific. Then there’s the dust-addled R&B of So Good At Being In Trouble: impressionistic, retrospection-indebted pop at its most mischievous, it’s further evidence of this unequivocal penchant for the past which has now been configured to a quite potent, and above all sporadically contemporary effect.
Though with a clutch of decades now dislocating us from that which Nielson and his latest seemingly inhabit – and of course could only ever inhabit vicariously via the music of this given time – we’ve been able to pick and choose that which we esteem and glorify accordingly. And certainly there are bits and bobs strewn throughout II which shan’t be recollected quite so favourably: the wishy-washy, tie-dye psych of The Opposite Of Afternoon; or the excessively expansive seven-minute prog opus of Monki; or Dawn – the inessential skit-like synth modulation which follows.
Though only when set alongside lesser moments are we able to truly gauge those of genuine quality – quality recognisable irregardless of era, and the album is again bookended with this as it grinds to an invigorating halt with the racy, falsetto-splattered Faded In The Morning and the dawdling harmonies of Secret Xtians. The latter lavishly composed as The Kinks gazing longingly up at George Harrison’s sweet Lord, it’s a twinkly thing that best epitomises the indwelling successes of emulating the past in order to forge a future to take forward into the unfathomable depths of the unknown. And just as any which selachian breed has but two default positions (swimming vs. slumber) Nielson is a creature of contrasts in that his body belongs to one epoch and his mind to another, with his songs split similarly between the bedazzling and the bafflingly expendable. And though one and one can combine to construct two, it’s high time these schizoid split essences came together for a consistently synergetic good…
Released: February 4th, 2013 [Jagjaguwar]