New Music Heaven : Unknown Mortal Orchestra

December 1, 2018
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Where are we headed? What are we consuming, how is it affecting us, and why does everything feel so bad and weird sometimes? These are some of the questions posed on Ruban Nielson's fourth album as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sex & Food-a delightfully shapeshifting album that filters these real-deal serious themes through a vibrant sonic lens that spans battered drum-machine funk, doomy and thrashing rock, and pink-hued psychedelic disco. Recorded in a variety of locales from Seoul and Hanoi to Reykjavik, Mexico City, and Auckland, Sex & Food is a practical musical travelogue, with local musicians from the countries that Nielson and his band visited pitching in throughout.

Along with UMO bandmates and frequent collaborators Jacob Portrait and Kody Nielson, Ruban began work on Sex & Food in early 2016, initially intending to draw musical influence from post-punk luminaries of his youth-think Killing Joke or Public Image Limited's singular Flowers of Romance. But as he toiled, Ruban began to realize the aesthetic limits of his aims. "Post-punk is so tasteful to my generation," he states. "There's no guilty pleasure to it-I just think it's cool and good. When it comes to rock, I want to get into dodgier territory."

So Ruban exited his comfort zone, literally: even though some of Sex & Food was recorded in his Portland home studio (the same one that adorns Multi-Love's cover), his desire to "get out of there," as he puts it with a chuckle, led to a quest for creative inspiration that literally spanned the globe-from Reykjavik to Mexico City, as well as the Vietnamese city of Hanoi, where Ruban was inspired to draw influence from the imagery of the Vietnam-based films of his youth, as well as the powerful images conjured by Jimi Hendrix's recording of "All Along the Watchtower." "It was just like I hoped it would be," he gushes about the city. "It's really hard to record there-everything is so humid-but it was a really inspiring place, too."

And his journey eventually led him to a curious but fruitful fount of inspiration: his past work. "At first, I thought that this was going to be a sad record, like II," he explains when discussing how reflection helped push Sex & Food forward. "I was influenced enough by my own early stuff that I went into it thinking, ˜If I was a fan, how would I want to bring some of that back into what I'm doing?'" That old-becomes-new approach is more than apparent on the lush, beautifully understated "Hunnybee," reminiscent of II's "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)" and drawing lyrical inspiration from Ruban's daughter whose middle name gave 'Hunnybee' its title. 



"I was trying to figure out how to write a love song about my daughter," he states. "She's seven now, but the song will still be there when she's a woman, so I was thinking about encoded fatherly instructions. I thought it was cool to say, ˜There's no such thing sweeter than a sting.' It makes her the protagonist-she can kill you! I thought that was good. The other line was ˜Don't be such a modern stranger," because I was thinking about what if the world is more atomized and isolated as she gets older?"

Indeed, the modern world - and all the thorny complications that come with living in it - loomed large on Ruban's mind while making Sex & Food. But even though he's not afraid to get topical throughout, Ruban was also careful not to get too political, and for good reason. "Everything is so soaked in politics, and it's kind of depressing for everything to be political right now," he explains. "I wanted to keep it light. I think everyone's feeling angry, and there's nothing particularly interesting about my anger."

We're playing "Hunnybee" all week long, so when you hear it text the word HOT or NOT to 44624 to let us know what you think!