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