Since playing the penultimate Passion of the Weiss superextravaganza, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra have been blowing up. And by blowing up, I mean attracting the attention of a dozen or so prominent online outlets and the Echo Parkians and Bushwickians who love them. I wrote about them for the Times in April, but never cross-posted because these days, I try to go full Costanza and keep my worlds separate.
Consider this penance for not contributing to the hype machine (because we obviously need MORE ECHO CHAMBER). But UMO’s self-titled debut released today on Fat Possum ranks as one of my favorite rock records of the year. They tap into the same dirty dusted basement psych-pop of so many bands these days, but lead singer Ruban Nielson has a winningly flexible falsetto that alternates between Barry Gibb, Jamie Lidell, and a slanted Elliot Smith frailty. Plus, these songs are catchy as Mr. Miyagi grabbing tsetse flies with chop sticks (Bill Simmons gave me that joke — no Grantland).
Most of the time, Nielson reworks Psychedelic Shack like he never heard The Temptations at their weirdest. The drums swagger with a hip-hop grit, enough to have given the group the balls to allow themselves to be described as “Captain Beefheart, Sly Stone and RZA jamming on a creepy, never-released kid’s show.” But they’re not as far off as they ought to be for a rag-tag just-assembled crew. Yours Truly, one of my favorite “prominent online outlets” caught the kids show live and filmed it in full HD glory. The clip is below, so are some songs, and the album is out on Fat Possum, if you’re into that whole “bourgeois buying music thing.”