From KCRW DJ Marion Hodges:
“Unknown Mortal Orchestra” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra is the ultimate offbeat dinner party record.
The debut from the Portland band with a Kiwi transplant lead singer almost feels like it was recorded specifically to soundtrack wildly creative, and intellectually charged discussions about art, politics, and of course… music. There is a laid back weirdness, coupled with an inert playfulness that seems to stimulate the mind, and make clever conversation flow — whether you are listening intently or just letting it float in one ear and out the other.
Of course, when the party draws to a close, and you do listen intently, you’ll realize that this is a well-crafted record that’s as much informed with classical structures, jazz chords, and busy bass lines as it is with “whatever, man” hippie cool.
The sound is somewhat similar to current bands like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Blank Dogs, James Pants, and another new band that us KCRW DJs can’t get enough of — the Connecticut-based Stepkids.
In fact, the first few times I heard Anne Litt play Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s “How Can U Luv Me?” the following thought process went through my head. Is this some cool new Mayer Hawthorne song that was produced by James Pants? Nah, too weird. Is it James Pants? Nah, too playful. Is this finally something from that Stepkids full length I’ve been waiting for? Maybe. Every week I’d hear her announce that the song belonged to a band called Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I’d make a note to investigate the band further, and I’d forget. It wasn’t until Anne began playing another UMO song though, “Thought Ballune,” that I realized I had to hear everything else the band had to offer right away.
It’s a neat, and very structured song that’s also basking in some serious distortion, and is rattling off lines about being the smiling alligator. It’s this dichotomy that makes the album so intriguing and appealing. The New Zealand connection particularly shines through as this record would be completely at home on that country’s seminal record label Flying Nun.
Pop hooks, garage dirt, and deceptively complex compositions have all been attributed to that label’s flagship artists the Clean, the Chills, the Bats and the Verlaines. Of course, these attributes also apply easily to many of the acts on Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s actual label, Fat Possum – home (current or former) to bands like the Fiery Furnaces, Andrew Bird, the Black Keys, and Jay Reatard (R.I.P.).
Still, even though comparisons to such excellent company both classic and contemporary run rampant in my mind when I listen to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, there is something about their overall sound that feels entirely unique.
I’ll go ahead and attribute that to the fact that the band was formed in and resides in Portland. I’ve never been to Portland, but I imagine it to be a magical fairy land where rent is cheap, people are friendly, public transit is free, delicious craft beer and coffee snob-approved java flow through the streets like water, and all music sounds as cool and creative as this. So… the ultimate moral of this story is, someone needs to invite me to a dinner party in Portland. I’ll bring the tunes.
— Marion Hodges