Well, at least they’re being honest. There have been a lot of bands come out recently from relative obscurity with only excellent music to speak for them, but it’s not like Unknown Mortal Orchestra ever attempted to deceive people when they first mysteriously appeared with nothing but a Bandcamp page. They’re obscure, they’re of this Earth, and they have the songwriting chops of a philharmonic. On their debut album, Unknown Mortal Orchestra don’t attempt to mask the listener with elaborate stories. Instead, they just play catchy vintage pop, and for that we should be grateful.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is cut from the same cloth of many lo-fi garage rock bands that thought 70’s fuzzy pop was just the bee’s knees. At times, some clear luminaries of the revisionist genre come to mind like Ariel Pink on the muffled “Nerve Damage!”. The group’s style is very much pop oriented, but their songs are shrouded in low rent technology. While vocals are almost always present, the only actual word that can be safely deciphered is “alligator” in the chorus of “Thought Ballune”, which probably tells you less about the song’s meaning. However, don’t lump Unknown Mortal Orchestra in with unremarkable groups such as Dum Dum Girls or Hippies. The group’s use of tracks for recording may resemble the visual of only a few pixels on a computer screen, but, if each of those pixels is vivid and electrifying, it shouldn’t really matter. The production may sound amateurish, but the group adds a variety of sounds to their tracks to make them sound complete, such as the emotive backup singing in “FFunny FFriends” and the oddball guitar introduction to “Nerve Damage!”. The drums on the album are so muted, the fills sound like they’re performed on the backs of rubber buckets, but each “thud” is endearing, giving an “aw shucks” quality to the group’s innocent pop.
So it’s a fun experience throughout Unknown Mortal Orchestra to listen to the group transcend their medium. The harmonies in “Thought Ballune” are intricate and well arranged. “How Can U Luv Me” grooves like some of the best pop songs of the 1960’s; I can imagine it being performed by The Jackson 5. “ Little Blue House” even features some clear vocals to place the song in a more modern context, both hinting that the potential of UMO reaches much farther than this record and that perhaps this whole lo-fi act is a put-on. It may sound rudimentary, but there are so many moments on Unknown Mortal Orchestra that signify a long and fruitful career for this group. As far as I’m concerned, they can stay as obscure as they like. I just hope this isn’t the last of them.