Unknown Mortal Orchestra- The Blue Album


Unknown Mortal Orchestra, fronted by guitarist/singer/songwriter Ruban Nielson, has been lauded for their psychedelic brand of pop music, which fuses irresistible melodies with a garage rock sound that has seen a resurgence over the past few years. On The Blue Album, though, Unknown Mortal Orchestra forgoes their much loved psych-punk sound in favor of the intimacy that is best achieved in the way this EP is approached - with an acoustic guitar, some simple harmonies, and a tape machine in a basement. Thus, despite the fact that it shows us a side of the band that we have not yet seen, The Blue Album still feels oddly familiar. The tracks are humble and stripped down, and the lo-fi acoustic recording makes for the feeling of listening to a close friend’s home demo—a treat given the rising status of this band from Portland, Oregon.

Be warned. There is no new material on The Blue Album. Instead, this release reveals the cores of three of the gems Nielson gave us on the group’s sophomore album, II. The tracks Swim & Sleep (Like a Shark), Faded in the Morning, and So Good at Being in Trouble, are fingerpicked with inspiration alongside covers of Swing Lo Magellan, by The Dirty Projectors and Puttin’ it Down, by Beck. If any of these acoustic versions demand attention, it is Faded in the Morning - the penultimate track on II. Nielson’s inaugural acoustic performance is at its strongest with this rendition, and in it, melodic phrases twist and turn with an interesting feel as they do with the full band. More so than either of the other tracks borrowed from II, the acoustic format elevates this song, and makes me wonder if its mollified lyrics had been begging for unamplified wood all along.

It is my hope that this EP will turn out to be a watershed moment for the group. To my ears, the texture that the acoustic guitar provides is ripe for use in psychedelic music (when was the last time you listened to Fearless, by Pink Floyd?), and I would love to see it incorporated into more of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s future full band arrangements. The Blue Album seems to prove that Unknown Mortal Orchestra is capable of experimenting with new voices. Continuing to do so, I believe, will push their music even further than it has already come.

By Mitchell Manacek