Album Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – V

Ruban Nielson's longest release features his most endearing melodies yet as AOR meets his characteristic lo-fi fuzz

With 14 songs and an hour runtime, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new record might have only just passed the requirements to become a double album, but labelling it as such seems significant. For a start, it distinguishes V, released today (17 March) on Jagjaguwar, from 2018’s IC-01 Hanoi, which felt more like a sister project to Ruban Nielson’s main output as UMO.

But musically, V taps especially into the Album Oriented Rock and yacht rock of the 70s, hair-in-the-wind guitar solos and all, albeit played through the clipped percussion and overdriven fuzz of Nielson’s characteristic lo-fi speaker. Though delivered with a more contemporary pop quaver, melodies on the likes of ‘Nadja’ and ‘That Life’ are among his most defined and immediately captivating.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Nadja (Official Video)

Though the 43-year-old New Zealander warns of danger in ‘The Garden’, this punchy and bittersweet opener sets the scene for breezy, palm tree-lined vista often at the periphery of these musical worlds. Recording in Palm Springs, California, before heading to Hawaii to tend to a sick uncle no doubt helped colour this in with deep, nostalgic hues of blue, green and clouds “Pink as a peach”. The hapa-haole ‘I Killed Captain Cook’ is the kind of song that could only be written on a beach.

On the other side, ‘The Beach’ calls more for dancing shoes than sandy Havaianas with its dusty disco beat and Steely Dan lead guitar. It’s an upbeat anomaly on an otherwise more wistful and instrumental second half, except for the silly but inescapable funk of living-for-the ‘Weekend Run’.

Though 2015’s Multi-Love might just top V on the banger-front, the added length affords Nielson more room to augment the range of layers between fun and fear that are sometimes hidden behind the stylistic scratch and smudge of his production, yet ultimately make his songwriting flare.

Released: 17 March 2023
Label: Jagjaguwar
On Tour: 30 May – 21 June