Whether Portland based Unknown Immortal Orchestra is 2011’s funkiest garage band or garagey-est funk band, their self titled debut percolates with a hypnotic blend of low-fi quirk and gutbucket stank that could well make them the band that every hipster worth his trucker hat will soon be claiming “first” on.
Described by frontman Rueben Nielson as “Captain Beefheart, Sly Stone and RZA Jamming,” UMO’s sound is a cosmic slop of break beat inspired drums, distorted guitars and androgynously inaudible vocals. Despite a haunting undertone of angst and alienation, the disparate elements come together with the easy kick of a sweet summer cocktail. Fans of the blogosphere favorite “Ffunny Friends” will have no problem assimilating to the album, as most of the tracks follow the same rhythmically driven, mid-tempo formula. The moody “Jello and Juggernauts” in particular seems to refine the dreamy melancholy that the lead single introduced.
Yet, the album’s most inspired moments tend to come when the band ventures outside the groove-driven dreamstate of their wheelhouse. “How Can U Luv Me” throbs with the uncharacteristic urgency of a double time drum track and straightforward lyrics belted out sans Nielson’s normal detachment. The arresting closer, “Boy Witch” is a haunting concoction that Brian Wilson’s evil twin might cook up in a Bizarro universe.
Checking in at a sparse 30 minutes, Unknown Mortal Orchestra seems a bit light, especially given the unfinished feel of “Strangers Are Strange” and “Nerve Damage,” and the fact that a number of tracks feel like variations on the same groove. Still, the album is a pleasure to listen to, with enough airy energy to fit a summer playlist and angst raw enough to carry it over into the shorter, colder days of winter.