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Will Schube will never sip wheatgrass with Talib Kweli

Unknown Mortal Orchestra combines the sharper edges of kraut rock with the soothing delicacy of pop immediacy. Singer/songwriter Ruban Neilson’s voice gravitates towards that Dionysian indulgence while the music drives relentlessly forward. Early UMO singles like “How Can U Luv Me” and “Swim and Sleep” perfectly mimic this formula, striking a balance between the razor-edged instrumentation and the sugary sweet vocal lines. While sounding distinctly himself, Neilson is able to craft a sort of lovechild between Can and Prince; not bad company.

 

His latest single, “Multi-Love”, leans more towards the pop spectrum of things, showcasing a bouncing keyboard riff seemingly snagged from the Unicorns catalog. Neilson’s voice is more confident than on his first two records—he’s willing to push his melodies to the front of the track’s mix while on previous Unknown tracks, he’s had a penchant for hiding his voice behind layers of instrumentation. Neilson’s lyrics are often hard to decipher, but Neilson succumbs to annunciation during the song’s breakdown. The lack of rhythm makes room for subtle synths and those almost-cheesy handclaps, as Neilson’s swaggering voice sings, “Multi love’s got me on my knees/We were one/then become three.” “Multi-Love” seems to speak more to intensity than quantity of lovers, and this breakdown gives the track an off-kilter and mysterious feel the title suggests. The band is able to pull off the sudden shift because the track’s foundation is so solid. It’s easy to veer off course when one can re-visit such a strong point of return. And this may be an apt metaphor for Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s philosophy. The band is constantly pushing their ideas horizontally, working within one plane but expanding its outwards reaches subtly and consistently. “Multi-Love” is the latest example of this practice: a distinct twist on a track littered with the fingerprints of Neilson’s Orchestra.

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