Sifting through the psychedelic instrumentation of Unknown Mortal Orchestra allows listeners to engage in a more active listening of the band’s latest album, ‘Multi-Love’. The lyrics provide a lens through which one may engage with the poetic agency showcased by Ruban Nielson. The album’s commentary on contemporary aspects of the human condition i.e: one night stands (‘Ur Life One Night‘), prescription drugs (‘The World Is Crowded‘) and border control (‘Puzzles‘).
Listening to Multi-Love for the first time, you can to choose either to value the lyrics or the instrumentation before moving towards a clear understanding of how they evidence paralleled emotions. Although the lyrics offer an emotional depth true to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s name, the album’s production employs a linguistic soundscape instead of necessitating a verbal storyline. Even when one chooses to engage with the lyrics’ account of humanity, Nielson’s vocal style mitigates the ease with which one may interpret the words (let alone their complex meanings). In other words, the distorted vocals further the thematic notion of ambiguous and multi-faceted identity by twisting the naturally enticing tone of Nielson into a stylistic layering of prog-psych vocalisations.
‘Multi-Love‘ sets the tone for this interplay of musicality. The verse ‘Multi-love got me on my knee / We were one then become three / Mama, what have you done to poor me / Now I’m half-crazy‘ introduces listeners to the album’s manic construction with an outlined multiplicity. While each of the songs stands alone, they also employ (at least) three pathways for listenership, placing the vocals, instrumentation, or passive acceptance of both at the foreground of interpretation. Deciphering the lyrics requires listeners to tune out the overlaid instruments; and while the screeching guitar, mellow bass, and muffled drums complement the vocal tones, they mitigate the lyrics’ accessibility. Enjoying the instrumentation encourages a recognition of the vocal harmonies as they resonate amidst Jake Portrait’s bass and Riley Geare’s drums.
While the album may not require such an active deconstruction of meaning(s), the depth of the album warrants such an interaction. Unknown Mortal Orchestra has created something holistically magnificent with Multi-Love. The album puts forth a lyrical vulnerability befitting the chaotic nature of their sound, so set aside some time and dive into their sea of personalised social commentary.
Words by Austin Bell