Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food (Jagjaguwar)

The Nielson brothers are New Zealand music royalty. After finding initial success with post-punk group the Mint Chicks, Ruban and Kody have carved successful careers for themselves with the former perhaps gaining even more success than his old group with Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra or UMO as they have become known have just put out their fourth studio album Sex & Food and as a record, it captures everything that was good about the previous three UMO albums. Musically, there is the psych grunge of the first record, the delicate acoustic stuff from the second, and the funky vibes from Multi-Love. It is almost like this record is a bookmark of everything Ruban has done so far with this project all rolled into one.

The line-up for this album has also changed with Ruban collaborating more with bass player Jake Portait and brother Kody having a greater role on drums and in the songwriting process. The result is a journey through weirded out psych funk and experimental space rock as only UMO can muster.

The album kicks off with a short Beatles-like instrumental A God Called Hubris before kicking straight into the no holds bars rocker Major League Chemicals. Here the band sound like Australian psych-rock wizards King Gizzard with plenty of grungy guitars and pounding drums. Then comes the mellow dreamy track Ministry of Alienation that has a strong Connan Mockasin vibe to it before the bouncy funk of Hunnybee shows the experiment with funk on Multi-Love was not a one-off. A great track and one of the album highlights.

By the middle of the album, things change direction stylistically again with the delicate acoustic folk of Chronos Feasts on His Children. Leaving aside the weird song title this is probably the most simplistic track on the record with Ruban noodling on acoustic guitar while he harmonises with I am guessing his brother Kody in what is a beautiful tune. This is followed by the heavy single American Guilt, the slacker rock of The Internet of Love (That Way) and the dance-pop of Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays.

The back end of this album then sees Ruban at his musical best, delivering some of his most tender and gorgeous songwriting moments. This Doomsday is a beautiful acoustic ballad of the like UMO are well known for, think So Good at Being in Trouble, while How Many Zeroes is another space out funk jam. This balancing act of moving between mellow guitar numbers and funk jams is one of the patterns that make this album such an enjoyable listen as you never know what you are going to get next.

The album then concludes with single Not in Love We’re Just High and the very moving If You’re Going to Break Yourself which is another album standout and maybe one of the best songs Ruban has written.

All up after a three-year gap there is no doubt UMO have delivered strongly with this album which is an eclectic mix of all the good things that make up this band. There is something for everyone here whether it is the rocky numbers, the softer ballads, or the dance jams.

At this stage in the group’s history I feel they are on quite a hot streak of albums and no doubt Ruban’s creative juices are flowing nicely. Sex & Food holds up strongly in the band’s back catalogue and reinforces again why Ruban Nielson is one of New Zealand’s greatest modern-day musical exports.

Sam Smith