Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s fourth album, Sex & Food, is a psychedelic kaleidoscope through heavy-rock revival, traditional folk and boppy psych funk.
It’s no secret that the previous record from Ruban Nielson’s psychedelic kaleidoscope Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love, was the most fruitful in the band’s catalogue. Nielson expands and explores various genres on the Portland-via-New Zealand band’s fourth album, Sex & Food. From heavy fuzz-rock on ‘Major League Chemicals’, warping folk on ‘The Internet of Love (That Way)’, plummeting psych-funk on ‘You’re Going To Break Yourself’ and acid synth-pop on ‘Not in Love We’re Just High’, there’s a bit of everything.
The best moments are unsurprisingly found in the psychedelic funk mould, where UMO have made a name for themselves. ‘Hunnybee’, a love song to Nielson’s daughter, is the perfect example. An updated version of UMO’s debut song ‘Ffunny Ffrends’, ‘Hunnybee’ combines elements of psych, funk, disco and Nielson’s underlying anxiety of the modern world – the “age of paranoia” – into a beautiful lullaby.
Nielson further dissects people’s behaviour on ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’, a song about everyone expecting the end to be near: “I’m caught beyond the feeling I won’t live far beyond these years.” Led by jangly keys and forming into a funky synth ditty, it’s very similar to the material found on Multi-Love.
When the first single from UMO’s new record arrived, a time-capsule from the early ‘70s entitled ‘American Guilt’, worry set in. Luckily, the visceral riffs of ‘American Guilt’ were a false advertisement for the expectations to set for Sex & Food. Only one other song, ‘Major League Chemicals’, also on Sex & Food’s A-side, explores the guitar-heavy “living-dead genre,” as described by Nielson.
While the two rock-revivalist tracks shine in a stand-alone form, their place on Sex & Food is questionable. The guitars of ‘Major League Chemicals’ are already contrasting to the suede groove of tracks like ‘Not in Love We’re Just High’, but the dissonance also takes time to warm into.
Another disappointment of ‘American Guilt’, and the record altogether, is the chance Nielson missed to make a political statement. Although Nielson has conceded UMO won’t buy into politics, the song explores the theme of shady government practices yet struggles to add anything valuable to a widely-discussed subject. But then again, how could anyone expect anything deep from an album titled Sex & Food? It’s not meant to be – the music here is created to make you feel good.
It’s obvious Neilson took a different approach to Sex & Food than his previous albums. His past two efforts, Multi-Love and II, were written and recorded in the basement of Neilson’s Portland home, and are tight, cohesive compositions. In comparison, Neilson’s method to create Sex & Food saw him recording in Seoul, Hanoi, Reykjavik, Mexico City, Auckland and Portland. The album is a product of the nomadic process: Sex & Food is a sonic patchwork through riff-heavy rock, bubble-gum funk, plummeting acid-pop and traditional folk.
While Sex & Food is at times abrasive, spanning too far in too short of time – the quiet acoustic ‘Chronos Feasts on His Children’, followed directly by the scuzzy Zeppelin-like ‘American Guilt’ – it’s also a fascinating listen of cryptic lyrics and wide-ranging styles.
It may be an enduring listen, but it’s worth every second.
‘Hunnybee’, ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’ and ‘Not in Love We’re Just High’